Opinion: L.A. drivers are terrible. Could dashboard cams help make things safer for everyone?

This file photo taken on March 13, 2013, shows a mini camera with a screen placed on a dashboard of a car rolling along a street in Moscow.
(Yuri Kadobnov / AFP/Getty Images)

My new year’s resolution this year is as simple as it is sad: Get a dashboard camera for my car. Once I get the car back from the body shop, that is.

Yes, my holiday season included a slow-speed fender bender. No one was hurt. Just a couple of crunched fenders. Other than the car, the only damage I suffered was my faith in other people. I won’t drone on about the details (I’ve already bored enough of my friends and co-workers) other than to say that I told one story to the insurance adjusters about what happened and the other person told a different story.

We both took cellphone pictures, but they don’t show much other than the damage to our cars, the location on the street and the debris in the street. I don’t know how much the insurance adjusters can glean from the amateur snaps taken by dazed and shaken people. Maybe a lot. Maybe enough to confirm my side of the story. Maybe nothing.

That’s why I want a dash cam recording my journeys through the increasingly hairy streets of Los Angeles. Not just to back me up if there’s another accident but because I’m hoping that simply having one will make other drivers be better people.

Ever seen people actually stop when the light turns yellow at an intersection with a red-light camera or slowing down on the freeway when there’s a California Highway Patrol cruiser at the side of the road? The very act of being observed makes people more likely to follow the rules and even behave better.


What researchers and officers have noticed since police have started wearing body cameras is that people are better behaved on camera. One of the first studies of the effect of the body cameras in Rialto, Calif., found officers were significantly less likely to use force against a suspect when the camera was turned on — and a suspect was less likely to be abusive toward officers. Assuming this finding holds up in later, larger studies, that’s good news for everyone.

And it makes me think the same principal may apply with drivers. If someone hits my car while it is parked in a lot and notices a dash cam, will they chance taking off without leaving and owning up to their error? Maybe not. Leaving the scene of a crime carries serious consequences.

Apparently dash cameras are the rage in Russia. And after seeing this video compilation of apparently staged accident injuries, I understand why. I hate the idea of being suspicious of everyone. But I hate the idea of being taken for a ride more. Hopefully, having dash cams mean we can avoid both.

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