Author: Justin Schmid
Content Marketing Specialist
Are Dash Cams Legal?
Are truck dash cams an invasion of privacy?
So far, courts have ruled that dash cams are not an invasion of privacy. But many jurisdictions have laws restricting someone’s voice or image without their consent. In other words, organizations must let their employees know if and how they’re using rear-facing dash cams.
How can employers use dashcam footage?
Employers can use dashcam footage to exonerate drivers, prevent false claims, coach drivers, and correct dangerous driving habits. It is unlikely that companies will use dash cams to surveil drivers off the clock. It’s not an efficient use of time.
What is the purpose of driver-facing dash cams?
Driver-facing dash cams can reduce liability. They can also promote a culture of safety that prevents accidents before they happen rather than just providing evidence after a crash.
Is dash cam footage discoverable in court?
Yes. Both plaintiffs and defendants can use the footage. Footage may also need to be preserved for a certain amount of time after a triggering event.
How can I get employee-buy in for driver-facing dash cams?
Be transparent. Focus on positive driving behavior. Provide examples of how a dash cam will make your drivers safer or even exonerate them after an accident.
Dash Camera Laws: Are Dash Cams Legal in Commercial Vehicles?
If you want to start a heated debate with commercial truck drivers, just mention driver-facing dash cams. Conversations about these devices carom from dash cam laws to philosophical concerns to conspiracies and right back again.
While truck drivers have made peace with forward-facing cameras, many remain opposed to having one aimed at them. And since driver-facing dash cams are becoming more common, this is a great time to take a look at whether dash cams are legal for commercial vehicles.
Are Driver-Facing Dash Cams Legal, or Do They Invade Your Privacy?
The debate over dash cam laws spans all types of trucks from local delivery vehicles to long-haul trucks. No matter how short the route, some drivers feel unsettled at the thought of supervisors peering into their vehicle. Long-haul drivers even argued that, because they often sleep and eat in their trucks, it’s their home. And they objected to being watched in their home.
That argument fell short with the California Attorney General, which concluded that use of the cameras doesn’t violate any state laws.
Some attorneys are fielding questions about invasion of privacy, especially if the cameras are pointed into sleeper berths. They agree with the California AG that the sleeper berth is not legally a home. An attorney from Truckers for Justice said, “I get five-six potential clients every day, but for every 10 drivers who call me there may be one legitimate case.”
Disclosure is also critical. The federal government and many states have privacy and wiretapping laws. These laws restrict recording someone’s voice or image without their consent. In other words, organizations must let their employees know if and how they’re using rear-facing dash cams.
How Can Employers Use the Footage?
Some drivers suspect that their employers are watching them at all times. The Internet is rife with unverifiable stories (imagine that!) about trucking companies randomly spying on drivers, even while the truck is parked.
But the cameras only transmit a short segment of data encompassing time before and after a triggering incident. Still, some drivers remain suspicious that their companies use the in-cab cameras to spy on them even while their trucks are off and they’re no longer on the road. While this is theoretically possible, it’s just not efficient to have employees pouring over hours of video footage. It would take too much time to find anything of interest if it’s not associated with a triggering event.
Also, this is primarily a scenario for long-haul vehicles. Many of the fleets using in-cab cameras focus on local deliveries.
Some unions are also urging their members to negotiate policies about how employers can use the footage.
What Good are Driver-Facing Cameras?
A law firm specializing in transportation law wrote that using driver-facing cameras shows a company’s commitment to driver training. Also, the cameras can prove that the driver wasn’t distracted, tired, or using a smartphone.
In their opinion, driver-facing dashcams can protect drivers and organizations in an accident.
In some situations, truck dash cams can encourage companies to stand by their drivers. In this case, a police officer appeared to run his patrol car into a delivery truck. Based on the video evidence, the company rallied behind the driver.
There’s also the possibility of reducing liability:
“One of the most significant benefits has been decreasing liability. According to the FMCSA, the average cost of all large truck crashes is $91,000 – which increases to $200,000 if there are injuries, and $3.6 million should the crash result in a fatality. However, having real-time video evidence has helped to exonerate companies in crash lawsuits.”
Dash Cam Laws: Is the Footage Discoverable?
If an accident goes to civil or criminal court, who can use the footage? What’s covered by dash cam laws? Either party in the case, according to legal experts.
“In every jurisdiction across the country – including all federal and state courts – any video or audio recording captured by the cameras likely would be considered discoverable information in litigation and would have to be produced to the complaining party,” James J. Franklin wrote in an article for McNees.
It’s also possible that certain laws may require organizations to preserve recordings and reports for a certain time after a triggering event. They could be open to legal action if they don’t comply.
The Key to Success with Driver-Facing Dash Cams
If your organization plans to use driver-facing cameras, it’s critical to be aware of the dash cam laws and other related legal matters. This isn’t always easy because they can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
But getting employee buy-in, being transparent, and emphasizing the possibility to help them in an accident can help. By engaging in an open conversation with drivers about how this technology can help exonerate them during events when they were not at fault, or even reward their continuously good driving habits – you are far more likely to receive their buy-in for dash cams.
This makes for safer roads and helps reward good drivers by providing context of the events. For example, in the past, if a driver is flagged for a harsh braking event it was always seen as a negative driver event (aggressive driving). Now with cameras in the equation, you can see the context around a harsh braking event. If a driver brakes harshly, but it is because a child ran out into the street, you can discern that event was actually the result of the driver being alert and thus rewarded for his/her actions. This allows organizations to reward that driver for making the right decision.
Final Thoughts On the Big Question: Are Dash Cams Legal?
Answering the question “are dash cams legal?” isn’t easy because of the different laws at local and regional levels. More often than not, though, the answer will be “yes.”
Still, fleet managers should do their due diligence to cover their legal bases when considering using smart cameras in their organization’s vehicles.
Need to know more about in-cab cameras, dash cams, and other related technology? Be sure to read the first post in our Complete Guide to In-Cab Cameras series!