Chris Porter was traveling toward Clemson on Highway 76 when a SUV suddenly darted out in front of his car, causing the two to collide.
The other driver’s insurance company was not rushing to help. But then he sent them the video.
Porter had a dash cam and the footage caused a quick change in attitude by the insurance company, which hadn’t wanted to talk about a car rental until after they questioned their client, Porter said.
“Within 10 minutes she called me back and said your nearest Enterprise is here,” he said. “It made it real easy.”
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Once the province of law enforcement vehicles, dash cams are increasingly being found in private and commercial vehicles to capture interesting sights, document accidents or road rage and protect against false accusations.
They have been used to keep traffic cases from developing into lawsuits, aided in making commercial drivers develop better safety habits, and helped trucking firms lower insurance fees.
And they are growing in numbers in South Carolina.
“We have noticed an increase of cams in personal vehicles,” Tiffany Wright, a spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas, told The Greenville News. “It will probably continue to increase as motorists see this as a way to protect themselves.”
Lt. Kelly Hughes, a spokesman for the State Highway Patrol, said troopers also have noticed dash cams in more private vehicles.
“The feedback I’m receiving from the field is that troopers are running across persons that have their own in-car camera system from time to time when responding to investigate collisions,” he said. “Having a recording of an incident or collision can be very helpful to a trooper when trying to discern facts or causation of the collision.”
That’s because a camera can record what happened without the bias or faulty recollections of eyewitnesses to a crash.
“It’s a fact of the world that cameras are more accurate than eye witnesses,” said Sen. Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg lawyer who has for years represented clients in traffic incidents. “If there is an accident and there are six cars ahead of you and the question is who moved first or who didn’t use their blinker, if somebody has a camera which shows all the cars in sequence, that’s much more compelling than interviewing six drivers and trying to re-create what happened.”
Hutto sees other ways video can help.
“The film is going to be much more useful in handling these run-of-the-mill insurance cases,” Hutto said. “Did the dog run out in front of me? Did the deer run out in front of me? How fast were you going around the curve? Those kinds of things.”
David Bowman, a 33-year-old Greenville software engineer, first noticed dash cam footage from personal cars in Russian clips. When he saw Porter’s footage posted on Facebook, he said he decided they were more than a novelty and his wife bought him one as a birthday gift.
“I started using it to document certain trips around town but eventually came to the conclusion that it would be of best use as a permanent fixture in my vehicle,” he said. “Whether to document vehicles that block intersections, poor driving on local roads, or to have video evidence in the event of something happening to me or a vehicle in front of me.”
Bowman said he has not had an accident but feels better having the dash cam.
“If I ever need to show in an official capacity to a police officer, court, or insurance agency that I wasn't speeding or that I am a safe driver, like a good scientist, I have evidence and I can bring data,” he said. “It's worth it for piece of mind.”
Like Bowman, Porter, who is director of undergraduate recruitment for Clemson University’s College of Engineering and Science, said he bought a dash cam after seeing Russian footage. The cameras are more widely used there because of insurance fraud.
He asked his insurance company if a dash cam would provide him any discount. They said no, he recalled, but his mind was made up anyway.
He had the camera about nine months before the accident.
“Every now and then I would catch something funny, or maybe an idiot driver,” he said. “I thought, one day I’m going to catch something really cool. Sure enough, it was the demise of my car was the best thing I ever caught.”
The camera he uses now also has GPS, among other features.
“It’s really amazing technology,” he said. “I can’t believe it’s not more mainstream.”
But that may change.
Buyers can find a wide variety of dash cams on the Web or in local stores, starting at less than $50 and selling for more than $200 for pricier models.
Garmin, which began selling them last year, has just introduced two new models, one of which comes with GPS, forward collision warning, speed camera and red light alerts.
“Basically, it’s the driver awareness movement that Garmin is trying to apply to our new automotive devices,” said Cesar Palacios, a Garmin spokesman.
He said Garmin is hoping use of dash cams increases in the United States.
“There’s a lot of insurance fraud going on at the moment and it’s helpful to have an eye witness to everything that happens on the road,” he said.
Porter said cameras come with a variety of features, including a G-sensor, which automatically saves footage in the event of a collision, sudden braking or acceleration. But he said he thinks what buyers should look for most is a crisp picture.
The cameras might also prove useful for parents of teen drivers, since they automatically begin recording when the car starts, he said.
They’ve also proved useful to the trucking industry.
Rick Todd, president of the South Carolina Trucking Association, said truckers have used dash cams for years and he believes their use is growing exponentially.
“It’s proven to be a very effective tool for risk management, for driver monitoring, and very useful, post-accident, in litigation,” he said. “My guys tell me they will get a claim that their driver had something to do with an accident or was at fault in an accident and they will pull the video and show it to the person or their insurance company or lawyer and they’ll just drop it and walk away.”
Clifton Parker, president of G&P Trucking, which operates a facility in Greer, said he remained unconvinced about using dash cams in his fleet until one day earlier this year when a dash cam in one truck showed its driver texting on his phone while he ran a stoplight, barely missing a woman and her two children in a minivan.
Now Parker has them throughout his fleet of 250 trucks, a tool, he says, for safety coaching and preventing accidents.
The video is not used for discipline but to improve the habits of drivers, Parker said. The system provides a safety score daily of each driver. The lower the score, the better the safe habits of drivers.
Since placing the system in trucks, Parker said, the company’s drivers have improved their scores by about 30 percent and no truck has been involved in a rear-end collision.
“Without some means of a training device, we have no idea how safe you are,” he said. “You could just be lucky. We don’t want that. We want drivers who are trained, who execute safely every day.”