The ultimate road partner

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Dash cams won’t prevent collisions or incidents, but one might save your bacon if problems arise. Just ask Al Ginter. The Winnipeg owner/operator was run into the guardrail in Northern Ontario on Jan. 4 by a truck attempting to pass a snow plow.

You might have seen the video on YouTube. It’s long since gone mega-viral and received around three million hits. 

Any professional driver watching this video can’t help but gasp. The opposing driver makes no attempt to pull back into his lane. 

A collision seems inevitable. Somehow Ginter manages to steer his rig and cargo of eggs to the shoulder and bring it to rest after bumping alongside a series of post cables that kept him from going over a serious embankment (and no eggs were broken).  

I managed to track down Ginter somewhere in Washington State, on his way to Vancouver, B.C., and asked him what would have happened if the event weren’t recorded on dash cam. 

“I would have been found at fault (by the insurance company) and I wouldn’t have gotten my deductible back.” 

His Kenworth sustained $25,000 damage and the towing bill was another $2,500. 

According to Ginter, the snowplow driver called in the incident right away assuming there had been a collision between the two trucks, but in actual fact there had been no contact. 

The OPP were looking for a truck involved in a collision and stopped a man driving a blue Freightliner but didn’t know he was the other principal. But this driver was on the police record and after some good sleuthing, most probably with the aid of the dash cam video, the cops laid three charges on a trucker from Milton, Ont. On Feb. 12, 31-year-old Akmal Hayat was charged with careless driving, failing to report an accident and failing to remain on the scene.

Dash cams should be a part of every professional driver’s tool kit, but it’s surprising that some fleets and carriers have as yet failed to embrace the technology. 

You’d think that safety and compliance people would be clamoring for the devices. 

Understandably some companies are nervous about having their facilities filmed, but on-board cameras are becoming more and more common among commercial truck drivers.

Up until now, I’ve never owned a dash cam, but I’ve been fascinated with the YouTube footage of vehicle crashes, mostly coming out of Russia where these devices are ubiquitous. So I was pleased as punch when Garmin sent me its Dash Cam 20 for review. 

Garmin is known for its GPS and back-up cameras, but this is its first foray into the dash cam market. At US$249, the 20 model is in the lower to mid-range of similar units that can cost anywhere from $30 to well over $1,000. 

The Garmin 20 comes with GPS coordination and I think the extra $30 is well-spent over the Garmin 10 model which doesn’t record GPS. 

It’s helpful to have the geographic coordinates as well as the time, date and speed if your video is ever used in court. 

This unit also has a detachable still-camera function so you can remove it from the mount to take photos of damaged trailers, etc., back-up insurance for drivers picking up loads or empties in drop yards.

With the camera mounted low on the windshield of my Volvo I got a good view of both fender-mounted mirrors, along with the wide-angle lens, providing almost 360 degrees of coverage from one forward-mounted lens (no need for an expensive three-camera system). 

This unit comes with a high-definition setting that recorded a nine-hour trip from Toronto to Kingston in HD with lots of room to spare. The tape (chip, I mean) loops over itself when full, and a “G-sensor” automatically saves several minutes before and after an incident, as happens anytime that the camera gets jostled strongly during a collision, severe braking or bumpy roads. Extended memory chips are available so you can save weeks of driving.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed the playback video, setting up the cam on the big screen TV. It’s like that slow television some people like to watch – the Finns are particularly enthralled by television footage of a burning fireplace, or someone chopping wood, or a long train ride – much better than watching paint dry. That’s my life up there on the screen, and it’s an art film! 

I had trouble getting over the fact that I don’t see the road in the same way as the pan-optic cyclops on the windshield – and presumably neither do other truck drivers. 

We’re always shifting our focus, or rather we’re concentrating on a number of different focal points and peripheries at the same time – who’s beside you, who’s behind, what’s going on up ahead, etc.

Watching my night’s work was kind of surreal and soothing at the same time: the traffic swells and  ebbs, the sun goes down, moon rises, the cars disperse and the trucks take over the highway,  landmarks pop up and pass by – the Big Apple, Pickering Go Station, and proto-industrial Vaughan, Ont., with its sports bars and fast food joints – and always the 401 runs through the narrative, marquee highway that it is, busiest in North America and the connecting artery between Ontario, Quebec and Michigan.

I might play some road videos at my next party, maybe set to jazz – Miles Davis or John Coltrane. I’ve also saved a trip complete with white-outs and howling winds that will provide interesting ambiance during sweltering, sticky evenings. 

Again I’m no expert on dash cams, but I liked this unit. It’s small and unobtrusive, with a three-inch screen for immediate playback. The recorded images (in HD) were clear and crisp. Unfortunately, the on-board microphone that comes with the Garmin 20 was no good at all; I suspect some interference from the Volvo’s electrics was causing all the cacophony.

Dash cams are necessary in Russia to guard against police corruption and insurance fraud, which is widespread in that country. 

Not surprisingly, they’re gaining popularity on this continent for similar reasons. 

As far as I know, only one country, Austria, forbids their use, while they are legal almost everywhere else. Issues of privacy have to be respected, but, for the most part, filming activities on public roadways is completely acceptable.

I asked readers of my blog at for their thoughts on dash cams. The response was overall positive.  

BC Trucker wrote: “I have used them for years, have provided video to police to substantiate claims of erratic driving after a truck rolled over in B.C. Will not drive a truck without one. If my company doesn’t want me filming my day, they don’t want my truck working on their fleet!”

And Kenneth B. Armstrong of Olive Branch, Miss., concurred: “Within two weeks of installation in 2012 it protected both my employer and client from a fraudulent union-worker injury claim in Newark, N.J. while pulling away from a dock. My employer was originally lukewarm to dash cams but over time they have finally come around. They know and understand these systems protect them, irrespective of whether their driver was at fault, or not. It helps recover costs when it is a non-preventable accident – and it helps save them money when a preventable accident because it prevents lawyers from making things look worse than it actually was. It (the dash cam) does so much to reduce and eliminate exaggerations and frivolous claims.”

George Orwell, one of my personal heroes, wrote extensively about a coming police state in his book, 1984. If anything his visions fell short of the mark: Big Brother is indeed watching, intently, and it’s even creepier than Orwell prophesied. The kind of surveillance conducted by the NSA and our own CSIS is indeed way over the top and unnecessary.

Along with western democracies, countries like China and other dictatorships attempt to control their people by manipulating social media.

But I don’t see the dash cams and CCTV in the same light when used for public safety. 

As a driver for a large courier network, just about all my actions are recorded somewhere or other and I don’t have a problem with that. 

Truck drivers are on camera just about everywhere – truck terminals, fuel pumps, donut shops. An argument has been made that surveillance cameras make people better citizens. 

They are less likely to litter, steal, assault, murder, etc., if the know their actions are being recorded. 

Truck News reader John explains that he got a dash cam after a fellow driver had a problem with a four-wheeler. 

“He was driving through town and a vehicle ran a four-way stop, just missing him, he honked the horn to warm them. The women in the car saluted him then proceeded to slow him down and annoy him. Then when they saw a cop they stopped him and made a formal complaint. The driver was pulled over and the cop started in on him until the dash cam was replayed the women were charged with multiple offences and were given such a tongue-lashing by the cop my friend could hardly believe it. Truck drivers are assumed to be in the wrong – when in doubt charge the truck driver. Dash cams will reduce this attitude.”

It seems a no-brainer to allow truck drivers to have dash cams, but none of the responding bloggers wanted to see them mandated across the industry. 

Just ask Ginter, who is living proof that dash cams work. “I’m uneasy when I hear the word ‘mandated’ in our industry. There are already so many rules that we have to abide by and I wouldn’t want another one added to the list. But I think they are a real good idea. For a hundred bucks you can get one and it could save you a lot more in the long run.”

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Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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