Digital Video Cameras should be mandatory in new vehicles

Crash Scene

It’s estimated that six people die on Canadian roads every day but in recent years we’ve seen up to 4000 deaths annually. Add to that the number of fatalities from the United States (over 43,000 fatalities a year) and it becomes clear that we have numbers that could be considered genocide. Now compare this fatality rate to say the airline industry. If they had a similar death rate in North America, it would equate to about four commercial airplanes crashing each week. Would you fly with that type of death rate? If I gave your family free tickets to Disney World, would you take it without a second thought?

Vehicle and road safety have evolved by leaps and bounds in the past few decades but crashes on North American roads have spiked drastically. Sure part of that can be explained because there are simply more cars on the road but cars don’t crash themselves; drivers do and little has been done to address them as the sole factor of collisions.

Impaired driver crashed into wall

Crash scenes are played out over 100 times a day across North America and each time it’s up to the police to figure out what happened and why. Police officers know as a rule people make terrible witnesses and usually have little idea what actually happened despite their “I saw the whole thing!” claims. Generally speaking, bystanders notice the affects of a crash but not what led up to it…not ‘the cause’. As such there is always a lot of finger pointing, resulting with police and insurance companies having to piece together various clues, evidence and statements to get an idea what happened.

Crash scene investigation and forensics have come a long way but in many cases, there are still unanswered questions and police must fall upon experience and speculation to come up with a reasonable explanation of what happened. This is especially true when there are no bystanders who witnessed the collision and the drivers involved both succumb to their injuries or simply can’t remember what happened due to short-term memory loss.

This is where digital video footage comes into play. Many times, crash scene investigators have relied upon traffic cameras to provide important clues as to how the crash occurred. What’s still missing though is what leads up to the crash. What really caused it? Did the driver fall asleep? Was the driver talking on a cell phone? Did they spill coffee on their lap causing a sudden distraction that caused them to veer out of their lane or into oncoming traffic?

Had the vehicles involved in the crash been equipped with in-car camera systems, investigators would have a better understanding of what actually happened in the crash and what lead up to it.

The technology already exists and is widely used in professional motorsports. Onboard camera systems feed into an enclosed computer system with various sensors tied into the vehicle that provide a video recording with over-lays of speed, RPM’s, G-forces, as well as steering, throttle and brake inputs. All this data is recorded onto a digital flash drive, which can later be downloaded for analysis.

This type of technology should be regulated into all new vehicles and include a camera pointing forward out the windshield to record the environment outside the car and a camera inside on the windshield pointing backward to record what happens inside the vehicle (which would also capture impacts from behind). Both lenses could be mounted on the rear view mirror so that they don’t affect the driver’s vision.

Now before any civil rights advocates or ‘Big Brother’ haters flood my inbox with arguments of ‘invasion of privacy’ you need to realize that anytime you are in public, you can already be recorded at any time (and you are) and by being in a public place, there is no reasonable argument for privacy. Even if in your own home, if I can see you from the street through your open curtains, you can legally be recorded. The same is true while in your vehicle. By law, there must be clear sight into your vehicle (although some level of tinting is allowed) and as such you can still be recorded.

Now I can understand that you may not want hours and hours of recordings of you inside your vehicle should you be captured singing to yourself or picking/scratching some part of your body that may be embarrassing on camera. But hundreds of hours of footage aren’t practical anyway and quite frankly…nobody is interested. What is interesting would be the five minutes leading up to a collision, the collision itself and the 15 minutes or so afterward. Let’s consider why…

–          The previous five minutes before a crash can provide valuable information as to the circumstances that lead up to a crash. Was there some sort of distraction? Was the driver behaving dangerously? Did they fall asleep? Was a traffic law disobeyed, ignored or un-noticed?

–          The crash itself would provide extremely important information to emergency room trauma staff in understanding what injuries have been suffered beyond initial ER assessments. If this information can be shown to doctors, it may assist them in saving your life by speeding diagnosis of injury thereby possibly reducing the severity of consequent disabilities and speeding recovery time. The footage can also be sent to vehicle manufacturers as scientific data of what forces are really experienced in real-world crashes so that they can further develop the passive safety systems in cars to help you survive a crash in future models.

–          After-crash footage could be valuable in training emergency first responders (paramedics and firefighters) in how to improve their life saving techniques.

(Driver runs red light and endangers pedestrian with baby stroller)

Now some people may also fear that their insurance rates will be impacted because they regularly drive above the speed limit or cautiously roll through the occasional stop sign (neither of which you should be doing anyway) but keep in mind that storing endless hours of footage is simply not practical…just the five minutes leading up to the crash and about 15 minutes following it. Therefore, if you are involved in a collision, only the footage surrounding that specific occurrence could be used as evidence since the system would be programmed to record on a loop until a collision occurs.

Another great reason to install them would be to ensure a greater level of personal accountability while driving. If you know you’re being recorded, you will be less likely to talk on your cell phone or violate traffic laws, knowing full well that if you have a collision, that video evidence will be used against you. That’s right…drivers break the laws because they figure the odds are good they won’t get caught and if they get into a crash, it would be hard to prove. Although, knowing the camera is rolling, you will put your phone down knowing full well that the courts will throw the book at you if you get into a crash. Even if you’re not ‘at fault’ for the crash, you may still be charged for violating the law, even if it isn’t considered a contributing factor.

Oh ya…the camera systems would be tamper-proof and it would be a criminal offense to try and tamper with them.

It’s important to note that newer vehicles are already equipped with an Event Data Recorder (EDR). This device cannot be tampered with and has proven to be a valuable tools to crash scene investigators. It logs such data as speed, accelerator inputs, brake inputs, etc. The EDR provided police with the ‘ah hah’ moment when investigating a crash in Ontario that killed 11 people. It proved that one driver didn’t apply the brakes when approaching a stop sign.

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One Response to “Digital Video Cameras should be mandatory in new vehicles”

  1. D.J. says:

    Great article.

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