Many people in Florida and throughout the country are purchasing dashboard-mounted cameras, colloquially known as “dash cams,” to record their daily driving adventures.
In most cases, individuals use dash cams to provide evidence in the event they are involved in a car accident or a police traffic stop.
Because of this, drivers may want to know:
- Is it legal to use a dash cam in Florida?
- Can dash cam recordings be admitted as evidence for Florida personal injury lawsuits?
The answer to the first question is fairly easy: you can use a dash cam in Florida as long as it doesn’t qualify as a windshield obstruction. If your dash cam is recording audio, though, you need the permission of anyone you are recording because of wiretapping laws in Florida that pertain to all electronic devices. Recording police and other public servants in the course of their duties may be an exception to this wiretap law. You can find more details on all these Florida dash cam rules below.
The second question is much more complicated, primarily because it is the subject of evolving legal interpretations. Cases in which a dash cam video presents “clear and convincing evidence” of a specific fact should allow the dash cam footage to be admitted, but again the law is currently murky for reasons also discussed in this article.
If you have been hurt in a car accident and are unsure of whether your dash cam video will provide evidence or not in your specific case, you can contact a Miami car accident lawyer today to schedule a free, no obligation consultation. Call 800-560-5059 or contact us online to schedule your free case review now.
How Does a Dash Cam Work?
A “dash cam,” short for “dashboard-mounted video camera” is just what it sounds like. They are a device that can be fixed to a spot on your vehicle for the purposes of recording video footage, often mixed with audio. Most dash cams are forward-facing, looking out the front windshield. They may also be attached to look out the rear window when permitted by state law.
Dash cams record whenever they are on. A dash cam can be manually activated each time the driver wants to use it, or they can automatically “wake up” when the vehicle is turned on. Sometimes they can be triggered to activate even when the vehicle is parked, potentially catching a hit-and-run in the act while you get groceries or attend a sports game.
Because dash cams have a limited storage capacity — usually enough for around 6 hours of footage — they will overwrite older footage unless it is manually saved and stored by the owner.
That’s really all there is to it! Like most cameras, you “point and shoot,” except you don’t even have to point since the camera is always facing forward.
Anyone who wants to use a dash cam in Florida should be aware of relevant state laws, though. They should also test view the footage to see if the camera’s view is unobstructed and if the video quality is sufficient enough to be clear and decipherable.
Is It Legal to Drive with a Dash Cam in Your Car in Florida? Are There Any Laws That Govern It?
There are two big Florida dash cam laws to be aware of:
- Florida windshield obstruction laws
- Florida electronic audio surveillance (wiretap) laws
Florida Windshield Obstruction Laws
The specific wording relevant to dashcams is as follows:
No person shall drive any motor vehicle with any sign, poster, or other nontransparent material upon the front windshield, side wings, or side or rear windows of such vehicle which materially obstructs, obscures, or impairs the driver’s clear view of the highway or any intersecting highway.
This wording is, notably, vague. Many local precincts interpret it to mean that you cannot have a suction cup-mounted device in the forward viewing area of the windshield, where a dashcam might be located. While that may be accepted in other areas of the state, it is probably best to instead mount the camera directly on the dashboard or upon the rearview mirror in such a way as to not obstruct your view.
It is worth noting that aside from windshield obstruction requirements, there is no law explicitly prohibiting the use of dash cams in Florida.
Florida Electronic Audio Surveillance Law
Florida and 11 other states require the express consent of everyone involved in a conversation that is being recorded (F.S. Title XLVII §934.03). This law is relevant because many dash cams also record audio, which can pick up on conversations between passengers and people outside the vehicle within earshot of the dash cam device.
Violating this law is, technically, a felony. Therefore, you should be extremely careful to notify people who are being recorded or to keep the audio recording function off as a default.
Notably, police officers may be exempt from this law based on interpretations that have been made in opinions of the 11th Circuit Court. Smith v. City of Cumming found that, “The First Amendment protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property, and specifically, a right to record matters of public interest.”
With this in mind, know that police officers can still see it as a challenge to their authority or an outright threat when you record them. One Tampa resident was arrested when she recorded her husband’s DUI stop and charged with a litany of offenses. These charges were later dropped — and the city of Tampa agreed to pay a $41,500 settlement to the woman — but the point still stands that recording an officer can be contentious. Never argue, and instead calmly notify the officer that you are aware of your rights to record the conversation of a public officer in the course of their duties.
Can You Use Dash Cam Footage as Evidence in a Florida Car Accident Case?
The use of dash cam footage in Florida court cases is currently a matter of untested law. As of the writing of this blog, there is an appeals case currently being heard in the Florida Supreme Court centering on the use of dash cam footage and how much evidentiary weight it can provide in a court of law.
While we are unable to provide a hard and fast “yes” or “no” to the question of “can dash cam footage be used as evidence in Florida, we can say this: dash cam footage should technically be allowed under the same circumstances as all other electronic photographic and video evidence.
Florida Statutes Title VII states that “videotapes” are within the realm of photographs and admissible under the following circumstances:
- The video clearly and convincingly depicts a specific showing or alleged fact about the case
- The video is authentic, determined under the sworn testimony of the individual who recorded it or who was responsible for its capture
The second point can become an issue even if there is no obvious reason to believe that the footage is inauthentic simply because there needs to be somebody able to testify as to the video’s authenticity.
In Lerner v. Halegua, a case that went before the Third District Court of Appeal of Florida, surveillance camera footage of an apartment complex parking deck placed an alleged perpetrator of a civil infraction at the scene and rough time the infraction occurred. But because the plaintiff did not install the camera and the person responsible for installing the camera was not called to testify to its authenticity, the footage was deemed potentially inauthentic and, thereby, inadmissible.
Since the individual requesting to submit dash cam footage will in all likelihood be the owner of the vehicle and the camera, they simply have to testify that the footage is authentic and has not been tampered with in order for it to be admitted. Whether the video clearly and convincingly depicts what they claim it does is another matter, though.
When is Dash Cam Footage Considered Useful?
Dash cam footage can show driver behaviors that can affirm a narrative that a driver was at-fault and acting negligently. For instance, if an injury victim alleges that a car was driving recklessly before it merged into their lane and collided with them, footage of the car swerving moments before the accident can be beneficial.
Likewise, if a hit-and-run driver claims to be misidentified but footage clearly shows their vehicle and license plate number immediately after a front end collision, then the dash cam video can potentially provide strong evidence of fault.
When is Dash Cam Footage the Least Helpful?
On the other hand, there are situations where dash cam footage might not support your car accident claim. If the camera didn’t capture an obvious action or the full scope of the scene of the accident, it might not clearly and convincingly prove the facts that the injury victim hoped it would. Similarly, if the footage is grainy or couldn’t adequately capture the scene at night, then it may not be helpful to the case.
One situation where dash cam footage can do more harm than good is if it proves that an injury victim somehow contributed to their own accident. If the video shows that they hit the other driver first, contrary to their claim’s narrative, the victim definitely doesn’t want to volunteer that footage (nor should they be attempting to make false claims, but that’s another matter).
Even footage of events leading up to an accident can be fair game, so consider the full scope of what the footage shows. If moments before the accident you were speeding and nearly missing cars, this can prove that you were driving recklessly and contributing to the circumstances of the accident, even if the video doesn’t actually disprove anything material in the claim.
Once all sides are aware that the footage exists, they can review it in discovery and potentially admit it as evidence against the dash cam owner, so be cautious and fully aware of what the video shows before attempting to use it as evidence.
Are There Example Cases Where Dash Cam Footage Has Been Used Successfully?
Dash cam footage has been helpful in at least one Florida case where a driver was accused of contributing to an accident and then fleeing the scene, a.k.a. causing a hit and run accident.
Orange County’s WESH News interviewed Sgt. Kim Montes of the Florida Highway Patrol, who described a scenario where a blue Ford Mustang crossed into the oncoming lane on State Road 528, colliding head-on with an SUV and instantly killing the Mustang’s driver. Witnesses claimed that the Mustang was the victim of a road rage-induced collision by another driver, but that accused driver was able to provide dash cam footage exonerating him by showing that he was not involved in any of the collisions.
How Do I Know If My Dash Cam Footage Is Admissible in My Florida Car Accident Injury Case?
There are many factors that can affect whether dash cam footage should be used in a Florida car accident injury claim and how much value it can provide to the victim.
If you have questions about a specific injury-causing accident for which you want to file a claim or lawsuit, it’s generally best to discuss the details with an experienced Miami car accident lawyer. An attorney can assist you with collecting evidence, evaluating its usefulness to your case, potentially getting it admitted, and using it to effectively back up your argument that someone else was at fault for your accident and your injuries.
You can schedule a free, no-obligation case review with a Miami personal injury attorney today when you call 800-560-5059 or contact us online using our convenient form.