An in-vehicle camera can protect the good and expose the bad on our chaotic, badly-policed roads

Do cars and cameras go together? They do, and increasingly so. In different ways, cameras fitted to vehicles are becoming a part of safety features. A car or van fitted with a rear-view camera shows the driver what is immediately behind the vehicle, such as a child cyclist, normally not visible in any of the mirrors.

Quite sensibly, the U.S. is working to make it mandatory for all passenger vehicles to have rear view cameras by 2014, and almost half of the models sold even now have one. There is a proven link between use of such cameras and dramatically-reduced risk of injuring or fatally hitting someone while reversing.

Equally interesting for us in Chennai is the prospect of fitting a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) to the windscreen of the vehicle. These are cameras that face forward on to the road and can record all the familiar sights — autorickshaws and two-wheelers zipping between heavy vehicles or driving on the wrong side, MTC buses honking and menacing people out of their way and jumping red signals, taxis running people off the road, SUVs with party flags imposing themselves, and traffic policemen identifying ‘soft’ targets.

It is, of course, another matter that the expensive police CCTV cameras set up at many traffic junctions in the city may not be in a position to help rule-abiding drivers with video evidence.

The car DVRs sold in international markets offer 720p and 1080p standard high-definition recording and GPS capability, some of them with a passenger-side camera too, offering dual view.

If they live up to their claims, these gadgets are sure to go mainstream, as a kind of black box for cars.

Clearly, an in-vehicle camera that is tamper-proof can protect the good and expose the bad on our chaotic, badly-policed roads. If all commercial vehicles are required to fit one, the visual evidence available will make accident investigations easier.

Moreover, at a price of about $80 (Rs. 4,500) apiece for the GPS model advertised by manufacturers in China, they would be a small additional investment in, say, an MTC bus or taxi cab. Remember, MTC buses are equipped with LED route boards that cost Rs. 2.16 lakh each for a non A/C bus and Rs. 2.85 lakh for an A/C low-floor version.

Most important, such a camera would greatly enhance the safety of children commuting to school. The camera can be placed in a manner that displays to the driver a child-level field of view of the school bus or van front.

The investment involved is not high, considering that digital video screens are now commonly fitted in taxis and cars for entertainment. The challenge is to maintain the system in working order.

If vehicle cameras work well, they should come as a big relief to motor vehicle insurers who complain of the rising volume of claims. You might, of course, argue that they install their own cameras all over Chennai and raise premiums for rash and dangerous drivers.

Finally, those who ride bicycles can also have their quota of recording fun. They must be in a position to invest in a helmet camera, a sturdier piece of equipment that costs between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 15,000 for waterproof models on the global market.

Perhaps the more inventive city riders can simply create a low-cost brace for their existing camera phones. Caveat: whatever you record, do not publish sensitive footage online if it is not in public interest.

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