Until recently, if you were involved in an accident caused by a third party, you had two strings of hope to cling to: that they admitted liability or, when your insurers got together in a dark corner somewhere to fight it out, that they found in your favour.
With the rise of ‘crash for cash’ incidents, that all became much more fraught.
Clearly, the other party would swear blind that the accident was your fault, with your version of events – that they slammed their brakes on in the middle of a clear road – beginning to sound just a little more implausible.
Thankfully, modern technology has come to the rescue, and we’ve been testing one of the new ‘dash cams’ from the RAC. Two models are available, starting with the RAC 01 which uses a 1 megapixel sensor to record 720p video at 30 frames per second (fps).
We tested the RAC 02 which features a 3 megapixel sensor that records 1080p full HD video at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps. It also offers a wider field of view – 170 degrees versus the 120 of the entry-level model – and a slighter larger screen (2.7-inches versus 2.0-inches).
In addition, the RAC 02 is supplied with a GPS module that allows the dash cam to record your precise location and speed, although this does involve affixing the separate module to the windscreen and trailing another wire to the unit.
Supplied in the box besides the unit itself and the GPS module are a surprisingly powerful suction mount, a USB cable to download recorded video to your PC, an 8GB Micro SD card, and a power cable with a cigarette lighter adaptor that incorporates a USB port so you can still charge your phone.
Although the RAC 02 has a built-in battery, it’s not intended for sustained use: during our tests, it managed only 16 minutes of recording from a full charge. Instead, the unit is designed to be used when powered from the vehicle, with the added bonus that the unit will automatically start recording when you turn on the ignition and switch off again at the end of your journey.
the RAC 02 will automatically start recording when you turn on the ignition
While this does leave you with the perennial problem of trailing wires across your dashboard, the supplied cable is of sufficiently generous length that no matter where you mount the dash cam, you should be able to tuck the cable into crevices and behind trim panels to keep things tidy. If you’d prefer to have the unit permanently wired, the company offers a £60 fitting service.
The unit itself is fairly dinky, taking up no more windscreen real estate than a credit card, and if it wasn’t for the protruding lens, it would be easily lost in a pocket or handbag.
The on-screen menus are easy to navigate using a series of buttons on the bottom of the unit, and they allow you to adjust parameters such as resolution, time stamp marking, file duration and the sensitivity of the collision sensor.
When recording, the unit captures video in a series of files, and for manageability these can be set to either 1, 3, 5 or 10 minutes in duration. Once the SD card begins to fill up, the unit will delete the oldest file first to create more space.
However, should the unit detect a collision through its built-in sensor, or if you press the Protect button, the current file will be marked and will not be deleted. On the SD card, it will also be renamed so it can be easily identified later – automatically detected events begin with the letters ‘EVE’, while those marked with the Protect button begin with ‘SOS’.
While for most situations this will yield not just video leading up to the incident, but also a short while after, there are problems with this approach.
For instance, if the file duration is set to 3 minutes and an incident occurs 2 minutes and 55 seconds into the file, only 5 seconds after the incident will be captured before the unit starts recording to a new file, which then won’t be protected and could be overwritten. Likewise, if the collision sensor is activated three seconds into a new file, none of the build-up to the incident will be protected.
Of course, one way round this is to use a high capacity SD card so that nothing needs to be overwritten, but we feel the system should protect not just the current file, but also those immediately preceding and following.
One handy feature is the unit’s ability to also take still pictures, so should you be unlucky enough to be involved in an accident, you can grab the unit and take a series of photos to record further evidence.
should you be involved in an accident, you can grab the unit to take additional photos
Once in the safety of your own home, you can connect the device to your PC and download the footage, before sending it on to the police and your insurance company.
The unit also has a side-mounted HDMI port so you could review the footage on your TV if required.
GPS data is captured in a separate file and can be set to appear with the timestamp at the bottom of the video, although the unit will also work happily without the GPS module connected.
The files themselves are in the QuickTime format with a bit rate of 15.2 Mbps, with audio from the built-in mono microphone (which you can turn off if you’d prefer not to capture your swearing!) sampled at 32 kHz and stored at 512 kbps. A three-minute file takes up about 340MB of space.
Quality is pretty decent – detail is well resolved for such a small sensor, although you’ll need to be within 15 feet or so to clearly make out a number plate.
The unit also makes generally good adjustments of exposure, dealing particularly well with transitions into and out of tunnels, and managing to handle direct sunlight without flaring or other artefacts, although driving into the sun on heavily tree-lined roads did lead to a few moments of severe underexposure.
The manufacturer claims it even records usable footage at night, and while during our testing we found the footage to be noisier, as you’d expect, it was still quite usable.
The entry-level RAC 01 model retails for around £100, with the GPS-enabled RAC 02 listed at £150.
We’d quite like to see an RAC 03 model that has its GPS module built-in, but whichever model you go for, it’s a small price to pay to help preserve your no claims discount.