Video at velocity
By Elliott GoldsteinFeatures CCTV and the Law Opinion
Ever wish that your car was equipped with a video camera to record the licence plate of the car that cut you off, or did some other equally unsafe manoeuvre? Thanks to modern technology, you can now mount a camera on your car’s dashboard and record whatever is on the road.
Many of these cameras can record hours of HD video and come with added features such as GPS (vehicle speed and status), motion detection, night vision, G-sensor (even recording in case of quick start or sudden stop), and removable memory cards.
For the past few years the police have used these dashboard video cameras to record, among other things, erratic driving, impaired drivers, police roadside screening demands for breath samples, police car chases, motor vehicle collisions, takedowns and arrests.1
Often these “dash-cams” will record the unexpected, as happened in Ottawa earlier this year, when a dramatic crash happened right in front of a motorist on highway 417. A transport truck lost its axle, causing the vehicle to almost flip. Fortunately, the driver of the transport was okay. So was the shocked motorist, who had the video recording to corroborate his version of what happened.
Apparently, dashboard cameras are quite popular in places where insurance fraud is rampant (e.g., people throwing themselves at cars in hopes of suing the driver, persons extorting money for alleged damage to themselves and their vehicles, or “hit-and-run” accidents). Cameras can record the number of passengers in the other vehicle and a physical description of the other driver and witnesses as well as the damage caused to vehicles.
In at least one country (i.e., Austria) dash-cams are illegal. In other countries, like Russia, they are very popular and are used by citizens to fight back against allegedly corrupt traffic police.
What about the admissibility of video recorded by such cameras? Legally speaking, video recorded by a dashboard camera is no different than video recorded by a digital camera or cell-phone camera. Provided that it is a true and accurate recording, fair (not misleading), and someone can authenticate it under oath, video recorded by a dashboard camera is admissible.
Of course, you will have to satisfy the chain of custody requirement. This means proving what happened to the video from the time it was recorded until it was brought to Court. If the original was recorded on a removable memory card (e.g., micro SD) that card becomes the source video. If recorded on a DVR and then copied to a removal memory card, you must be able to show that the recording is a true copy of the original.2
What about privacy concerns? The camera is recording events that take place in plain view of the public. Therefore, anyone shown in the video is also in plain view of the public and has NO reasonable expectation of privacy, in my opinion. However, if the camera is capable of recording audio as well as video, then the Criminal Code may apply to private communications recorded without consent of at least one party to the conversation.
When purchasing a “dash-cam,” consider the following: the camera’s resolution (the higher the better), quality of lens, shooting angle of lens (wide angle is better as it captures more), stability of mounting hardware (to eliminate camera shake), recording media, cyclic recording option, and connection to power outlet in vehicle.
Perhaps, one day, dash-cams will be standard features in vehicles. It might only be a matter of time!
Elliott Goldstein, B.A., J.D. is a Woodbridge, Ont.-based lawyer (firstname.lastname@example.org).
1. R. v. Bal, 2013 CarswellBC 333 (B.C. Prov. Ct.) and R. v. Basha 2009 CarswellNS 637 (N.S. Sup. Crt).
2. This procedure is explained in R. v. Koumoutsidis, 2006 NBQB 184 (CanLII).
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