An extra pair of eyes and ears
Question: How do those Russians capture all those crazy car crashes on video anyway?
Answer: They use cameras mounted to the windshield that are always on when they drive. They provide evidence of driving behavior if it needs to be proven in court, or to an insurance company.
But it’s not just drivers overseas who benefit from dashcams.
More and more motorists in North America are using them to protect themselves if they’re in an accident or if they just want a video memento of their visit to a backwoods lake while on vacation.
With the summer driving season upon us, now would be a good time to consider investing in one. And as they’ve exploded in popularity, these specialized cameras are now readily available at electronic stores and driving supply stores.
They’re comparatively inexpensive and can be very effective if you want an eye over your shoulder on the road.
Most are made by brands you’ve probably never heard of, like Mobius and Vico, and some sell for less than $100.
But at the higher and more reliable end of the scale, you can buy a compact car camcorder made for Hewlett-Packard that retails for $299.99.
If you shop around, you’ll find a cheaper deal. It sells for less than $170 at amazon.ca and for $199.99 at Costco, but I borrowed one from Canadian Tire to use on a recent road trip to New York City.
In the past, I’ve used GoPro cameras to record driving footage. While their quality is excellent, they are video cameras designed for maximum playback and many different uses. The Hewlett-Packard f210 is intended specifically for your car, and for you to be able to just forget about it.
It mounts with a suction cup to the windshield and gets its power through a cord plugged into your car’s power socket, or cigarette lighter. There’s an internal backup battery, too. The beauty of it is that you can set it to turn itself on whenever the car is running, and to switch off automatically when you shut off the engine.
If you don’t want it operating continuously, it can also be set to turn itself on immediately if it senses rapid deceleration, such as heavy braking or crashing. As well, it can turn itself on when it detects motion in its field of view.
It records video in segments of three minutes (which you can change to five minutes if you prefer), so if you want to review the footage, you can find it fairly quickly and easily. The main reason for this, though, is that when it reaches the maximum capacity of the video card, it will delete the oldest segments in order to record new ones. Like this, it will keep looping and never run out of capacity.
The largest card possible for its Type 6 requirement is a 32 GB micro SD card, which costs around $40 at most retailers. This gives you roughly eight hours of recording before it starts deleting earlier segments.
There’s a small screen on the back that displays the image, and it records sound, too, as well as GPS location data, the time, and your vehicle’s speed. With this information, you can use it to try to fight everything from a speeding ticket to a careless driving charge.
Video quality is very good during the daytime, recording a 130-degree image with a 1080p high-definition picture. It’s not bad at night either — certainly good enough to show what’s going on. It can also take photographs instead of video.
I mounted the camera high up on the opposite side of the rear-view mirror, so I wasn’t distracted by the image on its back, even at night. It comes off its mount easily, so I slipped it into one of my pockets when I parked the car, to keep it safe. It’s less than seven cm high and wide.
Fortunately, I didn’t record any crashes, but I was pleased to have it during a police traffic stop just north of New York City. The officer let me go following a courteous exchange, but if it had turned nasty for any reason, my electronic eyes and ears were recording everything.
This is the age of the camera. With a dedicated dashcam video recorder like the Hewlett-Packard f210, you can set it and forget it and have it always on your side, just in case.
It’s a great comfort for any driver, good or bad.
I returned my borrowed unit and then went out and bought one.
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