Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Getting in a crash is bad enough but getting blamed for a fender bender that wasn't your fault makes it much worse. It could mean a ticket, a higher insurance premium, or a strong chance of both.
A small device is helping more and more drivers avoid that possibility.
Once seen only in police cruisers, dash cams for the public have surged in popularity. The mini camera records what is happening around your car — a digital witness that doesn't lie.
Car crashes in Utah
While it is the major wrecks that make the news, the daily fender benders impact many more people and their wallets.
According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, 51,630 car crashes were reported in 2020. That adds up to an average of 141 crashes every day. Most of last year's accidents, 35,475, involved property damage only — no injuries. That means insurance claims, which means your rates can go up — especially if you were at fault.
How dash cams cleared 2 drivers
Julie Dalley was in an accident she swears was not her fault. But you do not have to take her word for it. Her dash cam caught the moment she turned left onto a freeway on-ramp as another car turned into her path without yielding, and they collided.
"So, when the police officer showed up, we actually showed him the video at the scene and he determined that it was their fault," Dalley said.
The other driver's insurance paid to fix her car.
"We didn't have to pay a deductible and we didn't have to have any kind of ding on our insurance (by) just showing that we didn't do anything wrong," she said.
Dash cams continuously record both video and audio onto memory cards, making the footage easy to share. When the KSL Investigators shopped online, we saw options selling for as little as $25 on up to $470.
Bili Romero paid $60 for his.
"The guy in front of me is stalled without no reason," he said about his experience in a chain reaction crash in Orem.
Romero's camera was rolling when the car in front of him suddenly stopped. He stopped in time, but the car behind him didn't. Romero was getting the blame for the accident until his attorney, Todd Livingston, showed the insurance companies the photographic evidence. Livingston told us Romero's case would have been very difficult to prove without the dash cam.
"You'd have to try and go and talk to the person in front of him, hopefully, get a statement where they say, 'Yeah, I heard him get hit before he hit me.'" Livingston explained. "But those aren't always a guarantee either."
Livingston said he has had to turn away some clients because there just was not enough evidence to back up their story. When there is footage, it speeds up the processes of determining liability and claims significantly.
"So, the dash cam definitely helps all of us," he said. "Helps the defense side. Helps the plaintiff side. Helps the client, the insurance company, everything."
The pros and cons of a digital witness
Having a security camera on your home or business can mean discounts on your insurance. The same is not true for a camera in your car, according to Ashlee Tilford with Insurance.com.
"There's no current direct relationship between having a dash cam and lowering your insurance costs," she explained.
But there are plenty of indirect ways a dash cam can save you money, Tilford said. The evidence can spare you from rate hikes caused by an accident, and it can get insurance companies to pay up. A dash cam might also vindicate you if you get pulled over.
"And if they accuse you of running a stop sign or a red light and you know that did not happen, you can offer — nicely — to show the law enforcement officer that footage," said Tilford.
The dash cam definitely helps all of us. Helps the defense side. Helps the plaintiff side. Helps the client, the insurance company, everything.
–Todd Livingston, attorney
Even if the officer refuses your offer, it is still evidence you can use to fight the ticket in court so it will not hit your record and consequently raise your premium.
Tilford said the dash cam can rescue you if you are the victim of a staged accident in a fraud scheme.
"Where somebody is purposely intentionally staging an accident in order to make an insurance claim, if your dash cam footage caught that, you can actually help to fight that fraud," she explained.
While a dash cam can exonerate you, it can also work against you.
"If there is an accident and you are at fault, whether it's your dash cam or someone else's, they can prove that," said Tilford.
And a court can compel you to hand over that evidence.
She also believes the camera can be a distraction for some drivers if they fiddle with it or even just look at it while on the road.
Still, Tilford recommends dash cams, as do Romero and Dalley who both say their investment in a camera for their car paid off by moving along justice and their insurance claims, at warp speed.
"I keep telling my friends to get them," said Dalley. "They're so affordable."
Some carmakers already offer built-in dash cams, and Tilford expects more and more models will start to include them.
If you're in the market for a dash cam, experts tell us price isn't important as long as the camera captures a clear image.