Everyone actually has a permanent record

Dashcams: what is allowed and what you should pay attention to

Travel & Transport

They can also be seen more and more frequently on the dashboards of German cars: dashboard cameras, or dashcams for short. But are they even allowed? And what should I watch out for if I have videotaped an accident? ROLAND partner lawyer and data protection expert Frank W. Stroot from the law firm bpl Rechtsanwälte Stroot & Kollegen in Osnabrück explained the legal situation to me.

First of all: what is a dashcam anyway?

A dash cam is a small camera that is mounted on the dashboard or on the windshield in the car. The camera switches on and off with the ignition. It is technically possible for what is filmed to be saved in short sequences. Once the memory is full, the oldest recording will be overwritten. So the dash cam can record indefinitely. In addition, with some dash cams it is possible through a sensor that the camera only starts recording automatically in the event of an accident.

Many dashcam owners want to protect themselves with the recordings so that in the event of a traffic accident it is clear what happened. After all, some cameras even have acceleration sensors that register when there is a crash. Then the recording is saved permanently and is no longer overwritten.

But: Can I film with a dashcam in traffic at all?

This question cannot be answered with absolute clarity. Because: "In principle, the other road users have the right to the protection of their personal data and to informational self-determination", so lawyer Frank W. Stroot. "That means: According to data protection regulations, you are not allowed to film the traffic without a cause and without automatic overwriting." After all, citizens should not take over the job of the police and monitor or even educate other road users.

On the other hand, the Federal Court of Justice made the decision in May 2018 that dashcam recordings are still admissible as evidence in court in certain cases. “The BGH ruling states that the exploitation of the recordings is permissible under certain conditions to clarify the cause of the accident. The responsible court in each case must check whether the clarification of the course of the accident should be rated higher than the personal rights of those involved, ”says Frank W. Stroot.

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The legal situation is as follows:

  • The mere installation of a dashcam in the car without a recording is allowed.
  • Permanent filming - for example to record a possible accident - is prohibited and can be punished with a fine. But: Under certain conditions, the accident video could be admitted as evidence by the court.
  • In the case of a dashcam in which you as the driver press the record button because you suspect that an accident could occur immediately or which is only activated automatically in this case, this use could be acceptable under data protection law. Under these conditions, the court could admit the video as evidence.

“With the ruling, the BGH said goodbye to generally prohibiting the exploitation of dashcam recordings. However, he left open what is now legally permissible, ”explains lawyer Stroot. In fact, it is very unlikely that you still have time in a dicey situation in traffic or that you are thinking of starting the dash cam recording.

What is very clear, however, is that it is forbidden to post online or otherwise publish material filmed in traffic that shows strangers. "This would be a clear violation of personal rights," said the data protection expert.

When are dashcams legal?

In principle, it is forbidden to make recordings with a dashcam in your car. Should you violate this and use your dashcam for video recordings, there is a risk of being fined. This would be less, the less data your dashcam records. It is technically possible, by the way, to avoid permanent recordings and to only carry out a short-term, event-related storage in connection with an accident. A motion sensor then triggers the recording in the event of a collision or severe deceleration of the vehicle. In the case of illegally obtained recordings, the court will weigh up interests and interests in individual cases: the more serious the data protection breach, the greater your interests must be for the recordings to be admitted as evidence. “There is still no clear legal regulation,” explains Frank W. Stroot.

Can I also use my smartphone to film?

Apps with the functions of a dashcam are now available in the Google Play Store for Android as well as in Apple's iTunes Store for iPhones. The same applies here: the respective app may not save permanently, and it should only automatically save the critical scene of an accident, for example. Most of these apps have free or inexpensive test versions that you can use to check what exactly the app saves.

What if my dashcam recorded a parking accident involving my stationary vehicle?

The dashboard camera as a silent monitor of your parked car - sounds tempting, doesn't it? The same applies here: If you can prove that the recording was only saved by the shock of the impact, you could present the video material as evidence. The chances of being able to use the recording are high. By the way: so that the recordings can actually be used as evidence, the camera should have a wide angle and good image quality.

Conclusion

The legal situation with regard to dashboard cameras is still unclear. In the dashcam ruling of May 2018, the Federal Court of Justice stipulated that dashcam videos may potentially be used as evidence. However, the BGH did not provide further details - that is, under what conditions, how and with which devices. If you (want to) use a dashcam, you have to be aware that you are (still) moving in a legal gray area with it.

This article was originally published on September 18, 2018 (Disclaimer).

Our partner lawyer

Lawyer and tax advisor Frank W. Stroot is the owner of the commercial law firm bpl Rechtsanwälte Stroot & Kollegen in Osnabrück. In addition to his qualifications as a specialist lawyer for labor law and a specialist lawyer for insolvency law, he has acquired extensive expertise in data protection law, which is also proven by the successful examination as a data protection officer (TÜV). His law firm represents companies and consumers in particular in labor law, traffic law, damages law, data protection law and insolvency law.

Frank W. Stroot

Business law firm bpl Rechtsanwälte Stroot & Kollegen

This article is part of the series "Traffic Legal Protection"