Dashcam Legality Depends on Where You Mount It

Laws relate to obstructed view and electronic surveillance

Before you buy and install a dashboard camera in your car, you may want to investigate whether dashcams are legal where you live. Although these devices are legal in many areas, two important legal issues could get you in trouble.

A police officer pointing to a dash cam in a car window

Lifewire / Miguel Co

The first problem with using a dashcam has to do with obstructing your view through the front windshield, and the second is related to electronic surveillance. Since these issues are dealt with differently from one state to another, verify the law in your location before you start driving with the cameras rolling.

The Legality of Obstructed Views

The first legal issue you might run into with a dashboard camera is that most of these devices don't attach to your dashboard. Instead, they are designed to attach to the windshield with a suction cup mounting system.

This is an important distinction because many jurisdictions place restrictions on how much of a windshield can be obscured by devices such as GPS navigation units and dashboard cameras.

The 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. Some areas have even tighter restrictions, and others don't have any windshield-obscuring restrictions on the books. So it's a good idea to check the 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. However, the only way to be sure that you're getting the correct information is to go right to the source. Fortunately, many jurisdictions provide easy online access to local laws and codes.

States That Prohibit Windshield-Mounted Dashcams

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

It's important to note that the focus tends to be preventing the obstruction of the driver's view of the road. Some laws pertain, in general, to windshield obstructions, and others are designed to regulate sunscreens or stickers. Still, they often use vague language that could include any obstructing object.

Even if you mount your dashcam on the dash rather than the windshield, if it looks like it's obstructing your view, you might be pulled over.

The state laws regarding this matter fall into three categories: states that have either specific or vague prohibitions on obstructing windshields, states that specify the parts of a windshield that can be obstructed, and states where no mention of windshield obstructions could be found.

Windshield Obstructions Prohibited Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Windshield Obstruction Restrictions Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Utah, Vermont
No Restrictions, or No Mention Missouri, North Carolina

The legality of window-mounted and dash-mounted devices in any given jurisdiction is subject to change at any time. Even if it is legal to use a window-mounted dashcam in your state today, the same may not be true tomorrow. Ask a lawyer or read the relevant code or law before mounting anything to your windshield that could obstruct your view of the road.

The Question of Electronic Surveillance

Dashboard cameras are technically a form of surveillance, so you may run afoul of electronic surveillance laws depending on where you live. There may be data protection laws on the books in your area.

There are no federal laws against dashcams in the United States. However, there are federal laws regarding surreptitious audio recordings, where it might be illegal to use a dashcam 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 are typically in the clear if you alert your passengers that they are being recorded when they enter your vehicle. You may also choose to buy a dashboard cam that doesn't record audio or disable the audio recording functionality, which will render this point moot.

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