Reasonable Doubt: The pros and cons of dash cams

Should I buy a dash cam? Kevin Yee discusses how dash cams can be used in lawsuits relating to car accidents.

Dashboard cameras for vehicles have been in the news a lot this year. Or, rather, they have been making the news this year.

Whether it’s capturing a shocking case of police brutality or an incredible natural disaster, dash cams often generate the breaking news story. Lately, it’s the grainy video filmed from a vehicle at the right place at the right time that has been producing the latest viral video.

A friend of mine recently asked me whether or not it was a good idea to get a dash cam. Since he drove a lot for work and was at a higher risk of getting in an accident, he figured a dash cam could help prove that he wasn’t at fault. In some countries, dash cams are prevalent because people want to avoid getting blamed for causing accidents. So in that sense, drivers justify the $100 or $200 cost of a dash cam as protection from premium hikes.

Here in B.C., dash cams aren’t very common. In B.C. lawsuits, dash cams are a rare source of evidence. In fact, civil lawsuits relating to car accidents rarely have any video footage of the accident itself. When they do, it’s often because the accident involved a public bus. That’s because many buses are outfitted with video cameras on all sides and because the bus companies often keep the footage for long periods of time.

Theoretically, having a dash cam could be useful. It might help you to avoid getting blamed for an accident that you didn’t cause. You’d be able to show it to ICBC or the courts if a lawsuit gets started (either by you or against you) to avoid getting blamed for something you didn’t do.

It’s not so simple, though. First, video footage does not give the final word on the matter. In a courtroom, video footage is just one piece of evidence that would be considered amongst all other evidence. That could include photographs, skid marks, witness testimony, and expert opinions. It is tempting to think that videos “don’t lie” and so would be given absolute weight.

However, like any piece of evidence, video footage would be scrutinized. Perhaps the video’s quality is awful. Or maybe the camera angle missed the colour of the traffic light. Ultimately, the judge or jury has the final say on who is at fault for an accident. They decide how much weight any piece of evidence is given.

So a dash cam is not the perfect solution, but surely it can’t hurt, right? There’s no downside to getting one, right? Not exactly. For the sake of argument, what if you are the one that caused this hypothetical car accident that got you thinking about dash cams in the first place? After all, someone has to be at fault, and it could very well be you. In this hypothetical situation, you’d find yourself in possession of some damning evidence. If this was a litigated civil case, you’d likely be required by the court to disclose this to the other side. The other side of the lawsuit would likely be entitled to it.

And before you go down the train of thought of, “Why would I want to sink my own case? I’ll just bury the video and it won’t see the light of day,” let me stop you right there. That is what we call evidence spoliation. Judges and lawyers take this very seriously. You’d risk being found in contempt of court. At a minimum, you’d risk jeopardizing your case. If the court finds out that you had a video of the accident that you hid or destroyed, it could infer that whatever was in the video was harmful to your case. It could then decide, without needing to see the video, that you caused the accident after all.

So, overall, a dash cam could be just as potentially hurtful as it could be helpful. Or it could have no real influence at all if its footage is poor. Think about all of this before you rush out to get a dash cam for a Christmas gift or line up for the Boxing Day sales. A dash cam is not necessarily going to be the ace up your sleeve.

A word of caution: you should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.