Over the past couple of years we’ve featured numerous videos of collisions in which an in-cab camera helped correctly opportion blame, and provided some pretty shocking footage to boot.
But as a fleet manager where do the benefits come from having a dashcam and, on a practical level, how do they work?
We tested an SVC1080 camera from Smart Witness throughout December, looking at the day-to-day reality of driving with a camera. Smart Witness says this model is popular with taxi drivers and small fleets, and claims that more than half of UK fleets are now using some form of dashcam.
The SVC1080 is what the company calls its ‘DIY’ unit. It originally launched in 2008 with this latest version coming to market last year.
Along with the camera itself, it is supplied with an extra-long USB power cable for the car 12v power adapter, sticky windscreen mount, and MicroSD card for storing the footage.
More premium Smart Witness models are designed for semi-professional installation, and can be hardwired in to the car.
The best place to mount a camera is just behind the rear-view mirror but on this model, with a little patience and care, it’s possible to thread the cable inside the interior trim yourself. It may not be something you particularly want to encourage your drivers to do to their vehicle, in case they manage to snap one of the retaining clips, however. It doesn’t take long so it might be worth getting an auto installer in to fit a few at a time properly.
For our trial we mounted the camera centrally at dashboard level, for ease of removal, and secured the wire with a little blu-tack.
Plug it in, and the camera will activate when your car ignition starts, and begin recording. It also switches off at ignition off, and the clear LCD display will go blank to avoid driver distractions. A small red recording light remains.
The camera can also be removed from the mount for safekeeping. The wideangle lens gives an 170 degree field of vision, and the HD footage is extremely clear in rain, sun or at night. Audio recording is optional, and can be enabled or disabled from the computer software.
There’s a proliferation of dashcams on the market these days, and now they can even be found in your local supermarket. You can pick one up from as little as £30 but this model is £199.99 (inc VAT), so what’s the difference?
The extra value, as is often the way today, comes from additional data. This camera has a GPS sensor, 3-axis G-force monitoring, and comes with Smart Witness’s analysis software.
Pop the SD card in your computer, and load up the software, and the camera’s functionality isn’t a million miles away from a telematics device.
The display panel shows the footage front and centre, with live, GPS-recorded speed below, and a g-force indicator. You can spot speed bumps on it, and the graph will show any significant force.
To the right of the system is a Google Map display which shows exactly where the car was at the time. It’s easy to read and helps corroborate a driver's story.
You can also export a journey onto a Google KML file for plotting on a map.
While our basic camera still gives a real indication of the value in post-accident data analysis, premium models come with even more benefits.
Smart Witness offers a version of the SVC1080 in which the SD card slot is lockable so drivers can’t try and wriggle out of an accident by swapping out or wiping the card, and the top of the range KP1 also includes a 3G sim card slot.
This means that if the camera records a significant force it will email the footage, g-force, and GPS data back to the fleet manager within seconds so accident investigation can begin – and they can get in touch with the driver to ensure everything’s OK.
The system is particularly easy to use on a computer and gives the fleet manager excellent visibility of an accident.
As a driver training tool, too, there is potential – a number of fleets use the footage as the basis for improvement and development, perhaps teaching the driver to leave more room, monitoring speed in different road conditions, or improving parking.
The question, though, has to be if the investment can be justified. With a premium model, the initial investment is likely to be around £350 per vehicle, by the time you have it fitted.
If the camera means that a 50/50 case can clearly be attributed to the other party, or perhaps even reduce the likelihood of a driver making a silly manoeuvre, it has benefits. Smart Witness says that fleet managers can often negotiate reductions on their premiums or use funds provided by insurers, such as Axa, which will help support the cost of installation.
If the costs stack up, it could well help a fleet manager (or driver, for that matter) to sleep a little easier at night.