Are Dashboard Cameras Legal in the USA?
Dash cams are becoming increasingly popular in the USA, and it’s not hard to see why. They can be used to get footage you otherwise couldn’t when driving (at least not safely), act as a form of insurance in an accident, and even be used to create a safer driving experience, such as to be used as a backup camera.
Chances are, all the above are appealing to you, but if you’re considering purchasing a dash cam, there are some things you should know about dash cams, and dash cam laws in the United States.
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Different Types of Dash Cams
Once you dive into the selection of dash cams available for purchase, you’ll quickly learn that there are many more options than you’d expect. Most products offer basic and advanced models, but many dash cam companies also tailor models for specific uses.
Dual View Dashboard Cameras
Dash cams that offer two views are also known as Interior/Exterior view dash cams. Their primary purpose is to provide coverage of the inside of the vehicle, while also filming what a regular dash cam would show on the exterior of the car.
Often, parents of new drivers appreciate this design as it allows them to keep tabs on their child, as well as catch footage should there be an accident.
Advanced Dash Cam Models
Dash cams that are considered to be ‘advanced’ models contain extra features, like audio recording and geotagging that most other dash cams don’t.
Advanced dash cams can also monitor and record speed with accelerometers and speed sensors. If you’re ever in an accident, these logs can prove very helpful. The other great thing advanced models provide you with is uninterrupted power, even when the typical power source goes out. Most models of this type still plug into your car but have a backup power source just in case.
Basic Dash Cams
Basic dash cams are meant to serve the main purpose of recording the exterior events of the vehicle. They don’t have a ton of extra features, but they’re convenient, and they get the job done.
They may not have an extra power source, but they do usually plug into your car’s AC adapter, or as they are often called, the cigarette lighter jack.
Dash Cam Laws, USA: Different Laws per State
While dash cams seem pretty upfront, there are some dash cam legalities in the US you probably haven’t considered.
The two USA dash cam laws that you need to concern yourself with deal with dash cam positioning (as some states ban it entirely as an obstruction of the driver’s view), and issues related to privacy and recording (as dash cams can also be considered a form of surveillance).
So, are dash cams legal in the US? And what are the restrictions on using one?
Laws about Recording
The issue of dash cams being a form of surveillance isn’t one that changes state to state as video recording in public areas isn’t banned. However, the crux of the issue is really at audio recordings. Some dash cams don’t even have this feature, so if you’re an owner of one of these, it’s a non-issue.
Here’s the thing, though, If your dash cam (or one you’re looking at purchasing) has an audio recording feature, you’ll either need to see if it can be turned off (and if so, turn it off when you have passengers), or you’ll need to inform passengers that audio may be recorded and get their consent before riding along with your dash cam.
Some states outlaw dash cams because they can hinder a driver’s view. Likewise, some states have various regulations about how dash cams must be positioned and mounted. Now, dash cams can be mounted either on the windshield or dashboard.
Keep in mind that even if your state bans only the windshield mounting of dash cams if it appears to impede your view you could still have legal trouble.
Windshield mounted dash cams are banned in the following states:
Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington DC, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
States that allow dash cams, but with restrictions on either positioning or mounting:
Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Utah, and Vermont.
Currently, only two states lack any mention or restriction of dash cam use: Missouri and North Carolina.
Dash Cam Positioning
Since there are a lot of regulations regarding dash cam positioning and mounting depending on the state, it’s important to brush up on some of the basics of dashboard camera positioning.
A lot of times when dash cam users have a suction cup mount, they place it directly on the windshield. As long as your state doesn’t prohibit it, this is a perfectly good spot for your dash cam. Ideally, you can put it in the center of your windshield, closer to the top of your view. Make sure wherever you put it won’t interfere with visibility.
The optimal place to put your dash cam if you’re doing a windshield mount is in the center of your windshield right behind your rearview mirror.
Some dash cam users just prefer the dashboard mount, while others live in a state where the windshield mounting is prohibited. The most important thing is to ensure that you still have sufficient visibility. The ideal placement on your dash may vary depending on the make, model, and size of your car.
Thanks to both improved design and the growing popularity of dash cams, there are a couple of alternatives you can use if you prefer something a little different than either windshield or dashboard mounting.
First, there are now what is considered ‘rearview mirror dash cams.’ These can be especially helpful if your state doesn’t outright ban dash cams, but has some tricky restrictions on using them too.
These models fit right onto your rearview mirror, and since the rearview mirror isn’t in any danger of limiting your visibility, they’re entirely out of the way and easy to drive with, without even noticing the camera is there.
Next, there are solutions for positioning a dash cam so that you can also see a rear view going out of the vehicle. Some dashboard cameras are explicitly made for applications like this, and allow you to position the dash cam and its lenses to view both, without extra dash cams, or messy cords.
You can also choose to position a separate dash cam to look through the rear window, as long as it is positioned so that it doesn’t affect your ability to see behind you.
Pros of Dash Cams
What are some of the benefits of having a dash cam?
The Fun Stuff
First, the fun stuff. You can record beautiful memories and epic road trips without even having to think of it. How many times have you looked back at a trip with friends only to wish you’d kept some of those memories? Plus, if something unexpected happens, you’re covered there too—who knows maybe you’ll inadvertently film the Internet’s next viral video.
If a reckless driver suddenly swipes you, it’s trouble. What’s even worse? When they speed off, and you have no way of holding them accountable for damages. The video footage gained from a dash cam is a reliable way to make sure you’re not left accountable for another driver’s actions.
For Accidents You’re Not Present For
When you come back to your car only to find a smashed bumper or other damage, you hope the other person leaves a note with their information. If they don’t, you still have the security of your dash cam behind you.
Cons of Dash Cams
Dash cams sound great, so what are the potential downsides of owning one?
This one is pretty obvious, but before you dismiss it, keep in mind that when you’re traveling between states, you could have a costly issue if you’re not up to date on local laws. Remember that not all laws are about the driver’s ability to see clearly, they can also become a problem because of recording.
Target for Theft
It’s important to make sure your dash cam doesn’t stand out too much. If it does, it could become a target for theft, especially if it’s a newer or more expensive model.
Summing It Up: Are Dash Cams Legal in the United States?
Dash cams are great for having fun, preserving memories, and protecting yourself from damages. They are legal in the US with limitations. It all really depends on the state you’re in. Specific regulations regarding them vary.
Also remember to keep up on local regulations if you’re traveling, and check for changes in the law. As the popularity of dash cams grows, laws may evolve and change over time.
In the meantime, see below why it’s a good idea to arm yourself with a dashboard camera.