Are Dash Cams Legal, Or Can They Get You in Trouble?

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Before you buy and install a dash cam in your car, you may want to investigate whether or not dash cams are legal where you live. Although these devices are perfectly legal in a lot of areas, there are two important legal questions that could potentially land you in hot water.

The first issue with using a dash cam has to do with obstructing your view through your front windshield, and the second is related to electronic surveillance.

Since these issues are dealt with differently from one country to another, and even from one jurisdiction to another in some countries, it’s important to verify the letter of the law in your specific location before you hit the road with the cameras rolling.

The Legality of Obstructed Views

The first legal issue you might run into with a dashboard camera has to do with the fact that most of these devices don’t actually attach to your dashboard. Instead, most of them are actually designed to attach to the windshield with a suction cup mounting system.

The reason that this is an important distinction is that a lot of jurisdictions place restrictions on exactly how much of a windshield can be obscured by devices like GPS navigation units and dash cameras.

The general rule of thumb is that if your dash camera obscures more than a 5 inch square on the driver’s side, or a 7 inch square on the passenger’s side, you could be courting disaster.

Of course, some areas have tighter restrictions, and others don’t have any sort of windshield-obscuring restrictions on the books, so it’s a good idea to check into the specific law or municipal code in your area to make sure that everything lines up.

One option is to contact your local law enforcement or a lawyer who has experience in the field, although the only way to be sure that you’re getting the right information is to go right to the source.

Luckily, many jurisdictions provide easy online access to local laws and codes.

What States Prohibit Windshield-Mounted Dash Cams?

Mounting a dash cam, or any device, on your windshield is illegal throughout most of the United States on a state level, although there are some exceptions.

It's also important to note that the focus tends to be preventing the obstruction of the driver's view of the road. So even if you mount your dash cam on your dash, if it looks like it's obstructing your view, you might get pulled over.

ProhibitedAlabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington DC, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Cannot disrupt visibilityAlaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Nevada
Specific limits on mountingCalifornia, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio
No restrictionsMassachusetts, Missouri, Tennessee

 

It's also important to note that the legality of window- and dash-mounted devices isn't set in stone.

Even if it is legal to use a window-mounted dash cam in your state today, the same may not be true tomorrow. So even though an online resource like this can provide a jumping off point, you need to actually check with your local jurisdiction.

The Question of Electronic Surveillance

Although dash cameras are technically a form of sousveillance, you may still run afoul of electronic surveillance laws depending on where you live. There may also be ‘data protection’ laws on the books in your area, like the ones that render dash cams illegal in Switzerland.

In other countries, there are no specific laws that render dash cameras illegal.

For instance, dash cams are nominally legal in Australia, and there are no federal laws against them in the United States. However, that may only apply to video.

For instance, there are laws regarding surreptitious audio recordings in both Australia and the United States, where it may actually be illegal to use a dash cam if it records a conversation in your vehicle without the knowledge of all the participants.

The key word there is knowledge, which means that you will typically be in the clear if you alert your passengers that they are being recorded when they enter your vehicle. Of course, you may also choose to buy a dash cam that doesn’t record audio, or even disable the audio recording functionality, which will render this point moot.