Dash cam video: Benefit or distraction?

-February 28, 2013

In the wake of the recent meteor strike in Russia, the prevalence of dash cam video and stills has been brought to the front of discussions. The vast availability of vehicles with these devices - most ranging from VGA to 1080P resolution - makes for a great source of scientific content for analyzing such an event (see image below courtesy of the BBC).

These cameras, most with MicroSD storage for the DVR, record 30-60 minutes of video and then re-record the loop. The goal is to help document accidents and determine fault of others versus the fault of the driver.

The diversity of dash cams also has a range of "ease of use" levels. The typical dash cam uses a suction mount to connect it to the front window. Just like navigation systems, phones, radar detectors, bridge toll crossing tags, parking stickers, etc., it is another device or obstacle that is consuming the precious visibility area of the front window. This device however requires buttons to control, and in some models has a distracting screen that is in the view path for the driver (see image (below) of good and bad positioning and design).

While the benefits of OEM cameras that can record activities with a control view into the car AV system (as is done with the rear view cameras) are obvious, the aftermarket ones need some controls. For example, the problem that results from the sale of the image of the meteor is drivers chasing after events for video content, rather than observing the traffic and road. If the focus of the driver is on the scene or to properly capture the events as they are happening, there is a strong chance that this will impact the number of accidents that are occurring on the roadways.

Just as when YouTube was first launched, there is a flood of "in car" video and photos of people trying to get recognized doing stupid things or capture events that are re-sellable as unique. The difference in this case is that to re-point the lens you need to re-point the vehicle - this can be problematic in some cases.

The most common use in the US is actually in-cabin facing cameras for cabs, public transit, limos, and airport transportation. These are manually controlled and are there to record passenger safety.

The outfacing cameras are a new application. A few of the designs are unobtrusive, being integrated with the rear-view mirror or existing alongside driver assist and lane change warning cameras. The US has not determined if dash cams are good or bad. To date there are no rules or regulation about them - other than the standard: you cannot put it on the front windows directly in front of the driver.

The questions that come to mind are if the level of AV and integration with mobile devices is overwhelming the driver. While attempts are being made to keep the drivers hands on the wheel with handsfree accessories, the limits of visual awareness and ability to process the information is coming into play.

Most people still teach their kids to not fiddle with radio when they are learning to drive, and it is a learning curve for most to get used to the timing of checking right/left mirrors, rear-view mirrors, and the dashboard while still checking where you are going. With the addition of interactive and engaging video screens, live playback content on dash cams, rear-view cameras and also infotainment - the time spent looking at the road and other cars or people is dropping.

Automotive designers need to have a system-level integration of all of these AV feeds into a single area. That will allow for the control of the feeds to a single display that can manage the appropriate time to display the information based on the drivers activities. Just as the infotainment systems support AUX inputs for audio from headphone jacks, the need to bring multi-channel and multi-source AV via MHL, Wireless, HDMI, etc., to this central console will allow these functions to be safely used in vehicles.

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