In Russia, having a dashcam in your car is so common that it would be more odd if you didn’t have one. Dashcams (short for dashboard camera) are becoming more widely used since the technology has been made affordable. A dashcam is either installed on the car’s interior windshield with suction cups or adhesive mounting or it can be mounted directly on the dashboard. Another place to put it is on the vehicle’s rear-view mirror and those who want to have all their bases covered, install dashcams in both the front and rear of the vehicle. The camera continuously films what’s happening on the road ahead or the road behind while the car is in motion. Dashcams are extremely popular in Russia for surveillance purposes. Citizens use dashcams for additional evidence as protection against insurance scams or police extortion. The beauty of dashcams is that whatever is filmed can easily be shared via the web. The footage from Russian dashcams have become a viral internet sensation as people upload all the crazy incidents their dashcams have captured. A search on Yandex.ru, Russia’s version of Google will result in thousands of dashcam videos showing the outrageous things that happen on Russian roads. In an interview with Radio Free Europe last year, Russian motorists’ rights activist, Aleksei Dozorov said, “You can get into your car without your pants on, but never get into a car without a dash cam.”
WHY ARE DASHCAMS SO POPULAR IN RUSSIA?
Driving in Russia is like navigating a war zone and not exactly the safest thing; the latest stats available from the World Health Organization show that in 2007, 35,972 Russians died in road deaths which is an average of 25.2 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people. Compare that to the U.S. which has six times more cars but only had 13.9 road deaths per 100,000 people in the same year. Then there is the rampant road rage with Russian drivers. Cutting someone off can get you threatened by an entire screaming family waving weapons. Fights happen all the time on Russian roads and the courts don’t recognize verbal claims of abuse. They will however, prosecute someone for property destruction and battery if you have video evidence. This, coupled with police corruption and those who attempt to commit insurance fraud, the proliferation of dashcams have become a representation of sociohistorical conditions in Russia. When it comes to traffic issues and the courts, Dashcam video is really the only way to prove your side of the story. In Russia, hit and runs happen all the time and insurance companies usually deny paying claims. Auto insurance is expensive and most vehicles over ten years old can’t even get insured. So, unless you have video footage of what exactly happened in an accident, chances are slim that your insurance will pay for the damage. Then there are the accident scams perpetuated by drivers who bump their pre-dented car into a victim. These type of scams used to only be perpetuated by the mafia but gradually became popular with common criminals. Working in groups, these accident-staging specialists are partnered with people who pretend to be witnesses who pressure and intimidate the victim to pay cash to the person they supposedly hit. Since the use of dashcams, these scams have greatly subsided.
WHY ARE RUSSIAN DASHCAM VIDEOS SO POPULAR IN THAT COUNTRY?
Russia is the opposite of the U.S. when it comes censorship. In the U.S., our online policy doesn’t allow violent or graphic images and although we have the FCC policing the airwaves and movie ratings, our entertainment programming is under less scrutiny than Russia. In Russia, their online content policy is questionable and unenforced while their TV programming and movies are heavily censored and uninteresting. Therefore, Russian websites with uncensored, unedited and extremely graphic traffic accidents, fist fights and other assorted road crazies have become the new entertainment. The go to “YouTube” channel to see all the deaths, crashes and fights is Ru CHP LiveJournal, which curates the many videos that are uploaded by individuals who want to share their dashcam experiences. Thankfully, Russian dashcam videos are not all about douchebag motorists, bloody accidents and crazy motorists. There are some uplifting videos that show one driver helping another while stuck in a snow drift of a community of drivers coming to the aid of someone in an accident. In some areas of Russia, drivers have to rely on the kindness of their fellow motorists since there are long stretches of uninhabited territory and help is only available in the form of a passing car because there is no AAA to call.
WHAT’S THIS RUSSIAN DASHCAM VIDEO ON A METEOR ABOUT?
On Friday, February 15, 2013 around 9:20 local time, a ten ton meteor entered Earth’s atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia with a speed of 40,000 - 42,900 mph. The meteor was such a fireball with light even brighter than the sun that scientists classified it a superbolide, an unusually bright meteor. It shot across the sky leaving a trail of billowing smoke and could be seen in Chelyabinsk’s neighboring regions. People claimed to have felt the meteor’s intense heat while windows and TV screens were shattered by the deafening boom. Damage was reported at a local factory and ice rink and around five hundred injuries were reported due to flying glass. Dozens of Chelyabinsk motorists were able to capture the meteor’s flight using their dashcams and immediately shared the videos of this scientific phenomenon worldwide via the web.
WHAT KIND OF DASHCAMS ARE THERE?
There are many types of dashcams with various features available on the marketplace domestically and internationally. Some are very basic and others are extra fancy with the ability to record the date, time, location, speed and even G-forces. Good budget cameras start at around $70 and the best high-end dashcams can cost up to $400. Depending on what features each has, there are dashcams that fall in the range between those two price points. Cool features that add dollars to the price of a camera include HD recording, long battery life, time-lapse video and the ability to mount the camera anywhere. Some dashcams can even be used as a rear view mirror. One of the most popular dashcams are the Go-Pro action cameras which were originally used for action and extreme sports but now can serve double duty. Another groovy feature that some higher end dashcams offer that is especially useful for the Russian dashcam user is the camera’s ability to automatically replace old video with new recordings. If one is going to be recording their everyday driving exploits, it’s important to have a camera that knows how to refresh itself. You never know when some crazy guy is going to jump on top of your hood for no reason and you want to make sure you have enough memory to film that spectacle for the web.
ARE DASHCAM VIDEOS LEGAL IN OTHER COUNTRIES?
Every country has their laws regarding the use of dashcams although they are becoming more and more popular in parts of Australia, Europe and Asia. In fact in Taiwan, one of the most viral videos in recent history was captured by a dashcam. The footage of TransAsia Flight 235 crashing into the Keelung River on February 4, 2015 soon after taking off from Taipei Songshan Airport was seen worldwide after being filmed by several dashcams mounted in cars going west on the Huandong Bridge next to the river. In Europe, they are popular depending on the country. In France, they are widely used while in Austria, they are forbidden by law and there are heavily fines if one is caught. In Germany, small dashcams are allowed for personal use but not allowed to be shared online since it’s considered a violation of privacy. Dashcam video is admissible in German courts as evidence only in a few exceptions. Swiss law strongly discourages dashcam use in public places since the fear is they may interfere with data protection regulations Dashcam footage is only in exceptional cases admissable as evidence in a German court. In Poland, dashcam recordings are allowed as long as it doesn’t infringe upon one's personal privacy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there is no federal law regulating the use of dashcams but Americans have been slow to embrace them. Many view dashcams as only police tools although some are slowly recognizing their value as potential evidence. Another reason Americans are slow to adopt dashcams and share their experiences online is that laws governing audio recordings in each state are different. In 2010, Anthony Graber had a GoPro camera attached to his helmet while riding his motorcycle. He filmed his encounter with a Maryland police officer and posted the video online. Later, he was arrested for doing so because the video also included audio. Ultimately, Dashcams probably won’t be widespread in the U.S. until there are more regulations or a greater need. It also might just be left in the hands of car makers to popularize them as they look for more ways to entice consumers with tech savvy new cars. Road crazies, beware! Perhaps in the near future, a dashcam will be just another standard feature in the latest car models and soon, everyone will be watching you.