DETROIT, Mich. — Can your dash cam cost you your FAST card? That’s the question professional driver Mark Roberts was left wondering, when on a recent trip across the Ambassador Bridge a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer threatened to seize his FAST card for having his dash cam recording at the port of entry.
Roberts, like many professional drivers, purchased a dash cam to protect himself from false claims from other motorists. He was involved in a crash in the US in which a motorist lost control of his car and slammed into Roberts’ tandems. While the driver praised Roberts for his driving skill and for preventing a more serious outcome, Roberts realized he could’ve been found at fault if the car driver chose to pin the blame on him. Up went the dash cam.
Roberts never thought anything of keeping the dash cam rolling when crossing Customs until he had a run-in with a US Customs officer who seemed agitated by the presence of the camera in his truck.
“She said, ‘You truckers just don’t get it, do you?’” Roberts told Truck News when recalling the incident. She went on to tell him that it’s illegal to use a dash cam to record Customs officers or facilities. The fear is that the footage can be uploaded to YouTube, where it can be viewed by the criminal element while conducting reconnaissance on border-crossing facilities and protocols.
Roberts said the Customs officer threatened to revoke his FAST card and then referred him to secondary inspection, even after he apologized and offered to delete the camera’s contents. At secondary, the Customs officer was less disturbed by the dash cam, but still asked that its contents be deleted. Roberts obliged, demonstrating to the officer how the camera works and then reformatting its hard drive and proving to him that it no longer contained any footage.
Roberts was delayed two hours over the incident. He told Truck News he’s happy to comply with any rules against recording border crossings, but would appreciate it if the rules were clearer. He noted there are no signs at ports of entry asking drivers to turn off their dash cams.
And the irony of a ban on dash cams at border crossings was not lost on Roberts, who noted both Canada and US Customs agencies participate in reality TV shows, which seem to reveal far more about border-crossing facilities and protocols than any dash cam could.
“Dash cams are a gray area,” Roberts said. “It doesn’t really matter to me (if they’re allowed). I’m not doing anything illegal, so there’s nothing I need to worry about. If they want me to turn it off, fine I’ll turn it off.”
Roberts’ employer, Kriska Transportation, has since sent out a satellite message to drivers asking them to turn off dash cams at the border and the Canadian Trucking Alliance has issued a notice, indicating “photography and videography is prohibited without the authorization of CBP in all US CBP areas with accordance to 41 CFR 102-74.420.”
However, Truck News asked CBP for its official position on dash cams and several weeks after our initial inquiry, the agency says it’s still working on getting us an official response.
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), on the other hand, promptly confirmed with us that there is no prohibition on dash cams at Canadian border crossing facilities – provided they are not interfering with an officer’s ability to do their job – and that there’d be no grounds for seizing a driver’s FAST card,
“The CBSA does not restrict the use of dash cameras at ports of entry. Dash cameras may be on and recording while waiting in line and they do not have to be turned off when speaking with an officer as long as it does not hinder or obstruct the officer’s ability to carry out their duties,” explained Esme Bailey, senior media spokesperson with CBSA.
She also noted, “The CBSA does not have the authority to delete files” on dash cams. However, they do have the right to inspect electronic storage devices, including dash cams. However, they’d be looking for more nefarious footage than that captured at a border crossing or on the highway.
“Our officers are trained to search electronic media for child pornography, obscene material and hate propaganda,” Bailey said. “They receive training to familiarize themselves with computers and other devices and how to quickly identify potential files. In cases where a CBSA officer discovers suspected child pornography or suspect files, the goods are seized and the individual is arrested. Local law enforcement is contacted and they may lay charges under the Criminal Code. The CBSA may lay charges under the Customs Act.”
Since his two-hour dash cam delay, Roberts said he’s been playing it safe and turning the camera off when approaching the border. He has talked to other drivers who do the same, including some who place a sock over the camera to prove to Customs officers it is not recording any footage.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies