Before you buy a dash cam, you might find yourself asking: Are dash cams illegal? No. In fact, there are no federal laws outlawing such devices. However, many states do have restrictions in place that could impact things like how and where you install your dash cam. Some states have stipulations surrounding ones that record audio too. So, while dash cams may be federally legal, it’s not actually that simple.
Dash cams can result in an obstructed view
The first issue with outfitting your vehicle with a dash cam is where to put it. Lifewire reports that most cameras won’t attach to your vehicle’s dashboard. Instead, Lifewire says that most of these devices use a suction cup mounting system to adhere to the windshield. This is important because many states have restrictions on how much of a windshield can be obscured by devices like cameras and GPS systems.
According to Lifewire, if a device like a camera obscures more than a 5-inch square on the driver’s side or a 7-inch square on the passenger’s side, you could find yourself getting pulled over. Don’t rely on those numbers specifically, though. Some states have tighter restrictions than others regarding windshield obstructions, making it essential to check up on the specific laws or municipal codes in your area.
These states prohibit windshield-mounted dash cams
Most states have outlawed mounting a dash cam, or any device really, to your vehicle’s windshield. However, Lifewire reports that there are some exceptions to this rule. While some laws pertain specifically to mounting a camera on your windshield, other laws use vague language that’s designed to regulate things like sunscreens or stickers.
According to Dash Cam Car, the following states have prohibited windshield obstructions altogether: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Ohio.
Meanwhile, states like Arizona, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin have put some restrictions into place when it comes to mounting a camera on your windshield.
Remember, however, that just because it’s illegal to mount a dash cam to your windshield doesn’t mean it’s illegal to have one in your vehicle. “For as long as it doesn’t interfere with your optimal view of the road, then it should be perfectly fine. It is for this reason that placing the dash cam on the car’s dashboard makes a lot more sense since it will not generally obscure your view of the road,” Car Bibles reports.
Understanding the intricacies of electronic surveillance and eavesdropping
Windshield mounted cameras aren’t the only problem, however. Dash cams often record audio, which in some states, presents a problem. According to Lifewire, “it may actually be illegal to use a dash cam if it records a conversation in your vehicle without the knowledge of all the participants.”
Road and Track reports that many states have eavesdropping statutes too. This could become an issue if you drop your vehicle off at the local auto shop and forget to turn your camera off. “If your dash cam records a conversation between people in the car that you are not a part of, it would be considered “eavesdropping” in many states,” explains Road and Track. Some states take eavesdropping pretty seriously too. Michigan, for instance, considers it a felony.
Does this mean you shouldn’t buy one?
Not really. In fact, such devices can be pretty useful. Instead, all this means is that you should do a good amount of research before buying and installing a dash cam in your car.
DISCLAIMER: The legality of dash cams in any given state can change at any time. Before installing one in your vehicle, consider consulting with a lawyer, reading the relevant code or laws yourself, or even reaching out to local law enforcement.