Sales of dashcams are starting to take off in France, with most car-parts shops offering models from €50, but their use falls into a legal grey area.
Exact figures are hard to come by, but a survey in 2015 estimated there were at least 300,000 dashcams bought in France that year.
It is now not uncommon to see the cameras in cars parked on the street, even in small rural towns.
Some even have features that set off the camera if anyone is close to the parked car, or if the car is touched by another vehicle.
Images are usually sent to the owner’s smartphone, where they can then be stored.
Dashcam evidence was collected by the police in the horrific head-on crash where a car driven by actor and comedian Pierre Palmade hit a car with a family in it, causing severe injuries and a seven-months pregnant woman to lose her baby.
A dashcam fitted to the car of someone who stopped to help recorded two young men who were in Palmade’s car running away.
Two suspects were later arrested after a manhunt was launched.
Palmade, who was badly injured, was found to be under the influence of cocaine at the time, and was put in detention in hospital.
France has very strict privacy laws, and among them is a law that states that while it is legal to film or photograph people in public spaces in France, you cannot use the images without the express consent of all the people who might be identified, either through their features or through the car they drive.
Obviously, people who have recorded someone driving into their car, or filmed another driver being aggressive towards them, will want to use the images, but doing so can be complicated.
Insurance discount offer removed
Some years ago, the German insurance company Allianz, which has a big presence in the French market, offered a discount to clients who used dashcams.
Now the company seems to have removed the offer.
It is not available on its website and it did not respond to repeated requests for information.
Similarly, carmaker Citroën, which offers dashcams as factory-fitted options on new C3 and C4 models, went silent when asked how the images they record might be used.
The CNIL data protection commission told The Connexion there was no specific legislation relating to them but it “strongly advised” that people did not use them.
“While we are waiting for government or parliament to come up with laws governing their use, we are vigilant on the question and have carried out legal exercises within the CNIL considering various scenarios,” it said.
“As a result, we strongly recommend that taxis, minicabs and individuals do not have any device which records, even partially, public spaces.”
Connexion reader experience
Connexion reader Patrick McCormick had front and rear dashcams when he experienced a road rage incident.
A van driver first tailgated him for several kilometres on a narrow road, then overtook, stopping in the road, running towards him and banging on the side of his car.
“Unfortunately, it turned out that the rear camera was not working because of a corrupted micro card,” he said.
“I had the front images, but in the end did nothing with them because when I looked, it seemed unclear if they were legal or not. It is something I would like the French authorities to do something about, because it is silly to have technology available but then hesitate about being able to use it.
“I know that in the UK there is a system where you can upload images for the police over the web, and they also have access to dashcams used by insurance companies, that give discounts to clients who have them.”
French motoring journalist Jean-Luc Moreau investigated their use for RMC radio.
Must declare camera
“If you are in an accident where another driver is at fault, to be strictly within the law you have to tell them straight away that you have a camera and the incident was filmed,” he said.
“You then have to transmit the images to the other driver as quickly as you can, and also to the police if they are involved, because if you wait, the presumption is that you have manipulated the images.
“Obviously, the best way of doing that is through your lawyer or insurance company, but you have to be quick about it, and it is not always easy to get personal details so you can send the images.”
He said that if someone tells you that you have been recorded, you can say you do not give consent for the images to be used if you think that you might be at fault.
“But while you have the right to oppose the images, which may or may not help your case with the insurance company, the courts also have the right to use the images gathered as evidence against you, if they are presented to them by the authorities.”