Are Dash Cams Legal?

 

Dash cams can be an important tool to keep you and your vehicle secure. They can help track down drivers who flee after hitting your car and provide evidence of your side of the story in a car accident. But are dash cams legal? Like all legal questions, the answer is complicated. The legality of dash cams depends a lot on where you live, what kind of camera you have, and what you are using it for.

 

Surveillance Rules

One of the biggest issues with dash cams is that they often record more than just what is happening outside of the car. They can also be used to record conversations inside of the car. In many states that can get you into legal trouble.

Most states allow you to record a conversation with only the consent of one person. In other words, if you know you’re recording your own conversation there is no issue. But twelve states make it illegal to record a conversation without the express permission of every person who is part of the conversation. These states are:

  • California

  • Connecticut

  • Florida

  • Illinois

  • Maryland

  • Massachusetts

  • Michigan

  • Montana

  • Nevada

  • New Hampshire

  • Pennsylvania

  • Washington

(Be sure to check with current state guidelines to determine whether this information is still accurate!)

The penalties vary from possible fines and even jail time to excluding any such conversations from being used as evidence in court. If you’re in a state where this is illegal, you shouldn’t use your dash cam to record conversations in your car unless everyone in the car agrees.

Using the dash cam to record traffic and your drive is allowed almost everywhere in the world. This is considered sousveillance. Sousveillance means recording an activity you are taking part in.

However, dash cams are illegal in Switzerland under that country’s data collection laws. You also cannot use your dash cam to intentionally violate someone else’s privacy. This is illegal almost everywhere.

When you are in public you have almost no expectation of privacy. But purposefully aiming your dash cam at a private residence to film people would be considered an illegal invasion of privacy.

We recommend that before using a dash cam, you consult with a lawyer who is familiar with laws in your area and can tell you what to expect.

 

Windshield Obstruction Issues and Screens in the Vehicle

The second major issue with dash cams is how much real estate they take up on the windshield. The laws about this are all over the map. About half of all states in the United States and provinces in Canada prohibit any kind of windshield mount. A handful of states allow windshield mounted dash cams if they take up less than seven inches on the passenger side of the windshield or 5 inches on the driver’s side.

It is possible to get around this issue by using a device that allows you mount your dash cam to the actual dashboard, rather than obstructing the windshield.

Many jurisdictions have laws against screens that could distract the driver. Most jurisdictions have exceptions for GPS units and safety equipment. It is not always clear how these laws apply to dash cams. Most dash cams are also GPS units, and some have a back-up camera feature making them safety equipment.

Ultimately, it is undeniable that dash cams are a great way to improve the security of personal cars or company vehicles, and that they can help keep employees and customers safer. But, before investing in a dash cam you need to check your local regulations to make sure you stay on the right side of the law.

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