Advanced Dash Cam Features

Dash cams vary enormously in price, from about $20 up to way over $200.

As well as simply supplier greed, some dash cams truly do have many more features and capabilities than the simple and lowest price ones.

We’ve of course covered many of the features and how they can be of high or low quality (and value) already.  We look at the other remaining “higher end” features here.

Read more in our series on Dash Cams

Future articles to follow shortly :

  • Legal Issues
  • Entry and mid level dash cams reviewed
  • High end dash cam review

Auto Crash Detection/Image Lock

Many dash cams will automatically “lock” a section of their looped recording if they automatically detect a crash.

Some dash cams have a feature that will automatically detect a collision, and in such a case, the dash cam will “lock” the video clip in which the crash occurred so it won’t be over-written in the future.

On the face of it, this seems like a good feature, but we view this as an over-complication rather than as a feature with a benefit.  How likely is it that you’ll be in a crash/collision and not realize it?  It seems to us that an automatic feature will sometimes create “false positives” and will save clips that aren’t crashes and which you neither need to nor want to keep, but on other occasions, the automatic feature might miss actual events that should be protected and saved as evidence.

In other words, this is not a feature you should rely on.  Instead, if you have a “significant event” that you wish to save the video of, pop the memory card out of the dash cam right away.  That way, there is no danger that the clip will be over-written, or that the dash cam (and memory card inside it) might be stolen, or that the memory card might fail or be corrupted due to a problem with the dash cam 30 minutes later.

We also circle back to the self-incrimination issue that we discuss in the final part of this series, on legal issues.  To be blunt, many “false crash” detection events may be the result of bad driving on your part – sudden swerves, hard applications of the brakes, bursts of acceleration, and so on.  Imagine if your memory card is filled with every bit of bad driving you’ve done in the last few weeks, and then you have a real accident, and maybe not even your fault.  So what happens when you hand your memory card over to the police (and the other side’s attorney, and your/their insurance companies) as evidence?  Do you think they’ll only view the scene to do with the actual accident?  Or will they gaze in horror at all the examples of your bad/inattentive/risky/dangerous driving that the dash cam has helpfully collected, and come to some negative conclusions?

There is one case where this might be a useful feature, and that is in the case of standby recording when you are away from your vehicle.  If you have enabled this feature, and if something happens to your vehicle while you are away from it, and if the automatic sensors detect the event and record it, and if the cause of the event was in the field of view of the camera, then if the function protects that important video from being overwritten, it might be helpful.

Okay, so that is two “might” statements and five “if” statements….

Car Monitoring While Parked

Following on from the preceding paragraph with its five “if” statements, we can see some value in having your camera record video if you are, for example, parallel parked, and the car in front backs into you while it is maneuvering in or out of the parking space next to you.  The same would be true for damage to your rear, assuming of course that you also have a rear-ward facing camera.

But what about if you are angle-parked and a car comes next to you and as someone gets in/out of it, their door hits the side of your car and dings/chips it?  That’s not going to be usefully recorded because you (probably) don’t have side cameras.

What if a car prowler comes along and breaks into your car – will that be recorded?  Unless your camera is recording everything, all the time, it wouldn’t record the car prowler approaching your vehicle, and again, a break-in through a door is probably not going to appear in your dash-cam’s field of view (an exception could be if you have a front mounted dash cam that also has a rear-looking camera that picks up images inside the car as well as out the rear window).  And, most of all, in such a scenario, it will only be useful if the person doesn’t then steal your dash cam!

Similarly, if someone walks past and casually “keys” the side of your car, will that be detected and recorded?

The car monitoring feature that is sometimes offered either works on the basis of continually recording everything, or of only activating when it detects either someone/something getting close to the car or senses vibration from something touching/moving the car.  The problem with only activating when something triggers it is that it has not captured all the information in the vital seconds before the event, only the information starting from a second or two after the event.  So, in the case of perhaps the car in front backing into you and damaging your front fender, all you’ll see is the back of the other car moving away from your car.  You’ll have to try and persuade the police that this is the car that actually hit you.  The other driver could credibly say that he got close to you but never hit you (especially if he has no damage to his car), and that your video is not proof that he hit you, merely that he was close to your car at some unknown time either before or after the damage occurred.

If you have a camera that stays on all the time, you also need to consider battery drain issues.  These units can draw up to 3 or 4 watts of power, and while that may not sound like much, a lot depends on the state of your car battery and how long you go between driving the vehicle.  A typical car battery has maybe 500 or so watt hours of power within it, and not all of those watt hours are fully usable if you want the battery to keep enough stored power to start the vehicle the next time you get in.

During the summer, and with regular long drives, the battery is usually close to fully charged.  But if you’re doing short drives in winter, with the lights on, with seat heaters, window heaters, and fans running, the battery load is greater and your battery struggles to keep ahead of all the drains on it.

In simple terms, running a dash cam overnight is not likely to pose a problem.  Even running it for two or three days is probably fine.  But if you’re going away for a week, there’s every chance you’ll come back to a dead battery.

Some dash cams have a clever feature built in to monitor the condition of the vehicle’s battery and shut themselves off when the battery reaches a certain level of depletion.  Others will heartlessly suck your battery dry.

So, in general, we have a feeling that this is a great example of a feature that manufacturers use to promote and sell their dash cams, but which in the real world is seldom/never used.  Even if it used, it is seldom/never of any value.

Remember in particular that to enable this feature, you’ll probably have to custom-wire the dash cam into an “always on” power feed from your vehicle’s battery at either considerable inconvenience or cost.

Online Connectivity

Some of the more expensive units have the ability to connect to the internet cloud – either directly, or through your phone.  There are several reasons (they say) why this might be a useful thing.

We can understand the concept of sending you real-time alerts if something happens to your car when you’re not in it.  That might be helpful, assuming not too many false alarms occur, and further assuming you are somewhere close by and able to conveniently go and check, and assuming still more that when you get there, the perpetrator is still present as well.  Otherwise, does it really matter knowing immediately or several hours later when you return to the car that at some point (perhaps even timestamped on the video) during your absence another car backed into it?

Another offered feature is sending real-time video into the internet cloud, for you to monitor remotely.  That might be helpful if you have your teenage son driving the vehicle – especially if it has a rear facing camera that shows you who else is in the car with him and what he is doing.  The Raven HUD and dash cam is an example of a unit that does this (but seems to no longer be available for sale).

Don’t think you’ll get the same quality of image via the internet that you get recorded directly onto the Micro-SD card.  For example, my Yi dashcam records 100MB of data every minute.  To put that in terms of internet connection speeds, that would require a 13 Mbps internet connection to stream to the internet, and to look at it from another perspective, a single hour of recording would use 6GB of data.  How much data is included in your phone plan each month (and keep in mind that “unlimited” data plans are never truly unlimited – typically your data speed is reduced to an almost-too-slow-to-work speed after you’ve consumed a certain amount of data each month)?  Chances are this will quickly become a very expensive option.

If the dash cam directly connects to the internet, rather than through your phone, you’ll probably find yourself paying another fixed fee for another line of phone/data service.  And on top of that, sometimes the dash cam provider will charge you a fee as well for hosting the stored video or perhaps even a fee for doing nothing.  But if this concept appeals, you might choose to consider a Nextbase 422GW or 522GW ($4/month), or an Owlcam with $99/year service.

One other feature of a dash cam with an internet connection and a GPS connection too is the ability for it to call emergency services if it detects an accident (ie a sudden acceleration/deceleration, typically followed by/resulting in a loss of speed).  For this to work well, you’d of course have to be somewhere with phone coverage, and the dash cam would have to have a built-in battery with sufficient capacity so that if the car’s power fails, it can still place a call and send enough information to advise of your location to an emergency service center.  The typical battery inside a typical dash cam might (or might not – especially if it is a super-capacitor rather than battery) be able to do this, so if this is an important feature, you need to confirm that the dash cam has a battery with sufficient stored capacity.

There is also the issue of false alarms, although that is usually solved by having the dash cam first ask you “Are you alright or shall I call for emergency assistance?”.  If it gets no response, it proceeds to place the call.

Voice Control

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Being Too Helpful?  Driver Assistance Features

One of the continual sources of annoyance in our lives these days are automated functions that are designed to be “helpful”, but which in reality interfere rather than help.  We are reminded of this every time we turn on our GPS.

In the good old days, you could set a level of zoom for your GPS and have it stay at that fixed level of zoom, plus, in addition, you saw a scale at the bottom that allowed you to understand what an inch of distance on the screen meant in terms of actual distance on the road.  But now, most GPS units have an auto-zoom feature that “helpfully” zooms in when you get close to an intersection, and zooms out when you’re on a rural freeway with nothing happening for the next ten miles of driving.  And, to keep things “simpler/easier”, the display “helpfully” doesn’t show a scale any more.  So you’ve no idea if an inch on the screen represents 100 ft or 100 miles.

These “improvements” would be okay if there were a way to disable them.  Originally, there were.  But these days, not so much.

Anyway, enough of the general rant.  In the case of a dash cam, some manufacturers have decided to add some “helpful” extra features that warn you when you’re doing things such as following too close to a car in front, or drifting out of your lane, and possibly other driving “sins” too (driving too fast, cornering too fast, braking too hard, accelerating too rapidly).  Some manufacturers have even invented a formal name for these things – ADAS – Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.

Except that, they’re not really advanced at all.  They’re insane annoyances rather than helpful prompts.  As you can see in this video, our Yi dashcam warns us that we’re drifting out of our lane, even when we are stopped at a traffic light!  Other units have been criticized for not understanding the difference between an intentional and unintentional lane change.

So while dash cams might proudly offer some of these types of features, the chances are that you’ll hate them and eagerly seek out ways to turn them off.  Don’t use the existence of such extra features as a reason to choose one camera over another.

Please Keep Reading

This is the sixth part of a seven part series all about dash cams, and supplemented with specific dash-cam reviews, too.  If you arrived from somewhere else, there’s a list at the top of the page showing all the articles.  And if you’re reading sequentially, the next page is about various legal issues and considerations that arise when you add a dash cam to your vehicle.

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