Can you be prosecuted from dash-cam footage? Legal FAQ

Dash cam prosecuted law speeding_THUMB

 

Dave Yorke is an ex-Merseyside motorcycle police sergeant and Tactical Pursuit Advisor. We asked him to look into what the dash-cam portal scheme, which encourages road users to submit footage of potential offences, means for motorcyclists…

People have always reported bad driving to the police – or riding for that matter – but before the advent of dash-cams there was little officers could do about it.

If there were enough complaints about a certain area then the police could set up an operation, but other than that it was pretty much one word against the other and as far as the police are concerned, without a realistic chance of a prosecution, that’s pretty much where the action stops.

Now though, by using modern technology, asking the public to send in footage of driving offences and making it accessible to complete the process, officers can have eyes where they previously didn’t. By doing so, they’re not asking the public to do their job for them – people have always phoned the police about bad driving – this is just a more effective way of conducting that side of the business. It only becomes a problem if forces reduce other means of Roads Policing enforcement, like dedicated Roads Policing Officers…

 

Quick links to dash-cam facts

What happens to dash-cam footage sent to the police?
What happens if police decide to prosecute as a result of dash-cam footage?
Is it important for the number plate to be visible on dash-cam footage?
What else must be shown on dash-cam footage for prosecution?
Can you be prosecuted for speeding through someone’s dash-cam footage?
Do you have to send the original footage to the police?
Does footage have to have the correct time and date on it, or can you use a GoPro?
Does sharing footage on social media make it inadmissible as evidence?
Will I have to go to court after submitting dash-cam footage?
How likely are motorcyclists to be prosecuted through dash-cam footage?
Can the police seize the footage from my dash-cam / helmet camera?
Is the dash-cam scheme good news for motorcyclists?

 

What happens to dash-cam footage sent to the police?

Dash-cam footage – or clips from any source – can get sent to the police in a number of ways, either via a link on the force’s own website or via the national dash-cam portal. Or, if that particular police force doesn’t have a system in place, then you have to either email or phone 101 and ask how to proceed.

Either way, the footage is uploaded and a police officer will view it and make a decision on how to proceed… I’ll come to that later, but each clip has to be accompanied by a statement – it’s a proforma type, which should easily lead you through what’s required, and on the national dash-cam portal you’re guided through the steps.

The reviewing officer will look at the statement as well as the footage and make a decision on how to proceed with it. They will either NFA (no further action) due to there not being any offences committed or insufficient evidence on the footage, they might send some form of warning letter, or they can prosecute (if an educational course isn’t appropriate).

Time is the key though; most of the offences that are highlighted by members of the public – careless driving, jumping red lights, mobile phone use and such – all have a time limit for service of a summons in six months. That doesn’t mean you’ve got six months to send the footage in as the driver or rider of the offending vehicle has to be given a Notice of Intended Prosecution within 14 days.

 

What happens if police decide to prosecute as a result of dash-cam footage?

The Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) will ask the registered keeper of the vehicle to name the driver or rider at the time of the alleged offence; they’ll be the same person or a family member in most cases, but sometimes it won’t be so straightforward, and it’ll be an unknown ‘friend of a friend’. The registered keeper could choose not to name the driver or rider to protect someone, or just to give the cops the run around, but failing to nominate someone means they fall foul of a separate offence, which carries six points and a fine of up to £1,000, and which is generally more than the penalty the original offence carries.

People sometimes accept an educational course and then try to delay taking that course until the six month limit for summons is up, in an effort to avoid prosecution that way. In those cases, the electronic file will have a reminder set on it and will raise the alarm if it looks like things are getting tight time wise, urging the officer to raise a summons as a failsafe.

 

Is it important for the number plate to be visible on dash-cam footage?

There needs to be enough to show the offence that you’re alleging and the number plate for the vehicle needs to be visible – the police won’t enhance it and if it’s unreadable then that will be the end of the matter. Remember this is all about enhancing what the public have always done in reporting things, and in the old days, if someone phoned up the police and said a blue car has just cut them up, nothing could have been done with that either.

It’s important to remember that we’re looking primarily at the dash-cam footage upload scheme here. This system is not used for assessing evidence in the case of a collision, in which case police will use any footage they have access to in order to help establish what happened.

 

What else must be shown on dash-cam footage for prosecution?

We asked Paul Mountford from Merseyside Safer Roads Partnership what needs to be on the footage and when it should be sent in: “Any footage of an alleged offence should start one to two minutes prior to the incident itself,” he told us. “This is to ensure that there was no previous incident that may have led to or caused the incident in question. There needs to be clear evidence of the offence in question along with the registration number of the offending vehicle.

“It's also worth pointing out that anyone who reports an incident must be willing to attend court (if required) and must keep their original footage until the matter has been concluded. Finally, in Merseyside we insist that any footage is submitted to Merseyside Police within 10 days of the alleged incident, to allow our officers to process and investigate the case within the timescales”.

There will, however, always be incidents that are far more serious than a low-level careless driving, which the police will always look into; it might be that the car you’ve filmed cutting you up but never caught its number plate had just been involved in a serious incident moments earlier. In those cases, the police will probably ask separately from this operation for any dash-cam footage from drivers around the area at the time of an incident.

The dash-cam reporting system is designed for reporting driving incidents, but it shouldn’t be used to report collisions.

 

Can you be prosecuted for speeding through someone’s dash-cam footage?

The dash-cam reporting scheme works around offences like careless and dangerous driving, close-passes on pedal cyclists (and motorcycles for that matter), plus other offences like contravening red lights or using a mobile phone while driving; it’s not designed to detect speeding offences.

There are all sorts of mathematics to work out speed, the most obvious being time and distance, and camera frames per second can be used to work out the speed of a vehicle. But the police aren’t going to go to massive lengths to work out the approximate speed of anything, unless the speed is so obviously high that it amounts to dangerous driving, in which case they will.

It only takes one committed officer to start the ball rolling and if the video is from a location that suffers from a high number of complaints from members of the public, then it’s likely to attract attention. Imagine a car or bike meet where the local community continually complain about drivers’ or riders’ behaviour, then a video appears, confirming all the complaints. Even if no action is taken over the video then the police will probably do something about it themselves – they might start actively patrolling the area with a view to speed enforcement.

 

Dash cam prosecuted law speeding_1

The National Dashcam Safety Portal is the easiest way to upload footage to the police

 

Do you have to send the original footage to the police?

Once the footage has been uploaded to the police database you’ll need to make sure that you keep the original file safely in its original state. The footage sent to the police has to be as it was recorded, so no editing or placing audio on top to describe what’s happening. The reviewing officer will look at the video and compare it with the statement you made at the time of submission and decide what course of action to take. The police will keep the submitted footage for at least two years, and long enough for any court processes to take place.

 

Does footage have to have the correct time and date on it, or can you use a GoPro?

A time and date stamp isn’t important as you’ll be making a statement around the details of the events anyway, so you can cover any changes in there. That means it doesn’t have to be dash-cam footage that gets sent in; any footage from any equipment – like a GoPro or other action camera – is fine.

Footage from a phone can also be submitted, but don’t use it while driving as the police will also look into any other offences that you may have committed and have become apparent while the footage is being reviewed.

 

Does sharing footage on social media make it inadmissible as evidence?

The current advice is that the footage shouldn’t be uploaded to social media, and should be kept out of the public domain in case it adversely affects any subsequent court proceedings.  Think about the comments sections where things might get said that may affect the ability of a jury to make a judgement based solely on what they’ve heard of evidence in the courtroom. 

 

Will I have to go to court after submitting dash-cam footage?

If a driver is offered an educational course they don’t have to accept it, and can elect to go to court. Or the incident might be so serious that the police will prosecute straight away.

A driver or rider who’s had their behaviour highlighted has the right to answer those allegations and argue them in court, so a police force won’t accept your video under the scheme if you’re not prepared to make a statement and go to court yourself, from the outset.

If it does get to court, your name will be mentioned but not your address, and your address won’t be disclosed to the other party’s solicitors either.

 

How likely are motorcyclists to be prosecuted through dash-cam footage?

33 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales currently accept footage through the National Dash-cam Safety Portal.

I asked Essex Police how many motorcyclists – another vulnerable user group – had been highlighted or prosecuted through their scheme (called ‘Extra Eyes’) for the financial year 2019/2020, and although they said that there had been 3,947 submissions, they couldn’t tell me how many offending vehicles were motorcycles.

Derbyshire couldn’t differentiate between vehicle type for 642 of 2019, but said that there was one motorcycle-related video submitted between January and March 2020. In that instance, the rider wasn’t subject to any action.

 

Can the police seize the footage from my dash-cam / helmet camera?

Yes, there are occasions when the police can seize a dash-cam or a helmet cam. This would most likely take place when dangerous driving has taken place, or there’s a fatality, and it might not necessarily be seized at the roadside.

 

Is the dash-cam scheme good news for motorcyclists?

Northamptonshire Police started to receive submissions in August 2019, so I asked Supt. Kevin Mulligan – a keen biker himself both in and out of his job – how the scheme could help in reducing casualties among motorcyclists.

“Having a helmet-cam or fixed camera on your bike allows the actions of others who put you in danger to be witnessed and potentially used as evidence against them. There are lots of cheap yet decent quality cameras out there and I would encourage all bikers to think about getting one”

Although the majority of police forces in England and Wales are signed up to the operation under one name or another, neither Police Service Northern Ireland nor Police Scotland are. PSNI does have some information on its website around what to do if people witness “poor driving behaviour”, and encourages a call to 101.

It’s important to say that if there’s no obvious easy link on a police force website, people can always call 101 and report something, it’s just a longer, more resource-intensive way of doing it. The Isle of Man Police, for instance, aren’t on the scheme but their social media posts say that they have acted on dash-cam footage.

 

Helmet cam footage of a crash

Footage can be used by riders to prove liability, where necessary

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