They say a picture is worth a thousand words. These days most of us have a camera on our phones and Google “got-a-digit-in-every-pie” offers one set on a thin headband which allows the wearer to take pictures and to see data on a tiny screen held just above, and to one side of, the right eye. It is not the first of its kind, but Google hope its Glass will be the first that lots of people want to wear. I guess some find it helpful to record where they last put their keys, or even the children.
I was talking to a friend who recently lived and worked for three years in Russia, where he says nearly everyone has a front-facing dashboard camera in their car, to help combat disputes with the police and settle insurance claims. Having watched the recent Russian road trip mini series on BBC2, showing some shocking in-car camera footage of incredibly reckless driving, I can see why.
Yet in Austria the cameras are banned, with the threat of a €10,000 fine for use. But I foresee these cameras will soon be trending more widely in UK car fleets, in the continuing effort to combat insurance scams.
The current batch of in-car cameras vary in sophistication and price, and importantly, the length of time that data is retained, but typically have a 170-degree wide angle lens and record data which is stored on an SD card. Some can plot position by GPS and others also record vehicle speed and braking forces. I guess you get what you pay for. You can choose to hardwire them to the vehicle or just plug in and switch them between vehicles as required.
Interestingly, so far drivers have jumped at the opportunity to have a camera installed, on the basis that it highlights other drivers’ shortcomings. We are good at that – complaining about poor judgement by the late brakers, the middle lane hoggers, and the swerving cyclists. What people maybe haven’t clocked is that the detail could equally well be used to prove where they were at fault too. When they do, an unintended consequence may be a rise in careful driving by the end- user. On my own fleet, perhaps that would have cut down the five people who drove into an inanimate object in the last three months, even if it would also take a rear-facing camera to cure the five who similarly reversed into something in the same period.
However, as a fleet manager, if I receive a phone call from an irate member of the public claiming one of my drivers has transgressed, do I automatically have the right to view and use the footage from the camera we installed, or do I need to get a signed declaration from employees allowing us to do so? Who else would have the right to scrutinise the data – presumably the police, the courts, and insurers? Will the police confiscate the card from the camera at the scene of the accident, as they may a mobile phone?
If our driver is in the right, he will be only too happy for his data to be released to the relevant authority and that is where, over time, we may make insurance savings. It will cut the number of 50/50 settlements, and reduce the time taken to settle claims, if photographic evidence proves conclusive. And of course it’s said the camera never lies.