The Rise of the Dashcam

Dashcams or dashboard cameras provide the ability to record footage on the road. This simple function has been used for a variety of purposes throughout history. Its application has morphed over the years and will continue evolving in the future. Coca-Cola was originally made to treat morphine addiction and is now the world’s most popular soft drink. And while dash cams have nothing to do with soda, it does have an interesting historical path that has led it to become one of the popular car accessories today.

Credit: DanTD

The Beginning of Dash Cams
The first recorded use of a dashcam was way back in the 1930s when H. C. Fairchild, of Washington DC, invented the first “windshield camera” designed to help police officers catch traffic violators. This setup had three-cameras mounted to a vehicle and took still pictures to be used as evidence. It also recorded time and date. In 1939, Officer R. H. Galbraith of the California Highway Patrol was the first officer photographed to use his personal motion-picture camera on the job.

In the 1960s, dash cams became more standard in police cars and were used in several states to combat traffic violations. These dashcam setups now had the ability to rewatch footage at the scene. One reporter described a person’s surprised reaction to watching footage of themselves erratically driving even though they had profusely denied the claims moments earlier.

In 1988, Detective Bob Surgenor was credited for recording a high-speed pursuit from beginning to end. Many feel this was the catalyst for the 1990’s explosion of popular dashcam footage featured in shows like World’s Wildest Police Videos or Cops.

As dashcams became inexpensive and less bulky, they became more widespread and crossed over to citizens who wanted to take back some power for themselves.

Credit: Ellin Beltz

Dash Cams Go Viral
Up until this point, many citizens couldn’t necessarily prove unlawful road behavior from law enforcement. In many cases, it would be your word against theirs.

Other countries around the world began to see widespread adoption of dashcams for varying reasons. In Russia, the government allowed and encouraged dashcams as the accident rate was one of the world’s highest, and corruption was rampant. Do a quick YouTube search on Russian dash cams, and you’ll understand why they are so popular.

Likewise, Russian dashcam footage has inspired countries like the UK and Australia to adopt them. People in Korea use these devices to protect their cars from accidents on the many narrow roads and discourage robbery.

Like most technology, dashcam features have advanced rapidly. Parking Mode, for example, gives you the ability to record footage while you are away from the vehicle, ensuring it captures any movements or collisions.


Built-In GPS is standard in some dashcam models, which can provide speed, time, location, and route data to whoever needs it. Integration with a smartphone now allows quick review, footage download, or even sharing with others, all with the click of a few buttons. Safety features like lane departure warnings or collision avoidance are also being incorporated.

It’s no wonder why dash cam popularity is increasing every year. According to Grand View Research, the next seven years are expected to see the fastest growth of demand for advanced dash cams.

Another survey has built-in dash cams as the number one most requested feature in new vehicles. Though popular, this feature is more challenging to implement due to the increased privacy laws and concerns that vary from state-to-state and country-to-country. Dashcams are banned outright in countries like Portugal, Switzerland, and Luxembourg.

Dash Cam Application and Uses

Credit: Tony Webster

Law Enforcement and Police Encounters
US Law enforcement officers utilize dash cams to help exonerate their actions or to provide corroborating evidence to crimes. Many citizens similarly use dashcams if police have mistreated them. There are plenty of cases of drivers providing dashcam evidence to dispute traffic violations and unlawful behavior.

With the increased attention to fatal encounters with police such as Tamir Rice or Walter Scott, this footage is vital to show one angle of how these events transpired. The public has recognized the value in having video footage at these scenes that help piece together the incident and have called for additional coverage. Law enforcement officers and citizens are promoting these devices and even police body cameras for full transparency.

Credit: Diablanco

Rideshare drivers make up a large percentage of dashcam owners as their job revolves around driving customers they’ve never met before. Drivers have cabin cameras that videotape the interior of a vehicle. Infrared lights are embedded to illuminate night time footage. Suppose there is any dispute of any inappropriate or illegal behavior. In that case, footage can then be reviewed, which helps drivers prove their innocence, and/or riders can help get dangerous drivers off the streets.

For day-to-day drivers, dashcams can provide extra assurance that a device provides an objective perspective. Dealing with insurance claims can be very stressful, and having proof can help the process go much faster. Some insurance companies even offer discounts on premiums if you use a dashcam. And though it might take some time for more insurance companies to incorporate this discount, the more dashcams on the road will help lower premiums for everyone as incidents can be attributed accurately and swiftly.

The Future of Dash Cams
All signs point to increased adoption and the continual advancement of device features. As more people start seeing the benefit of dashcams, it’s not too far-fetched to see more insurance companies offering discounts or governments encouraging its use.

Commercially, built-in dashcams will become part of the standard package in newer vehicles. Cloud capabilities are currently in the infancy stage of becoming mainstream, opening up unlimited remote access and control possibilities.

Christopher Lee is the owner/editor at EyewitnessDashCams, a website dedicated to writing about technology and cars and how dash cams play an increased role in today’s society.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. 

Here are other NMA posts on dashcams and one post about in-car cams that have recently appeared on the National Motorists Association’s Blog: 

Tell us about your experience with dashcams, and if you see them as a necessary for today’s motorist. Feel free to make a comment below or check out this post on the NMA Facebook page and begin the conversation.

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One Response to “The Rise of the Dashcam”

  1. RandyGT says:

    Dashcams are big help solving the traffic issues and violations. I hope it will be required for all mass transportation. I recently installed the rear bumper from 4Wheelonline onto my truck along with a rear camera. Huge difference in backing up and calculating distance, especially when driving in highway.