Drivers should install dashboard cameras to help resolve disputes over car crashes, a police chief has said, despite a legal grey area over their use.
Maj Gen Mohammed Saif Al Zafeen, chairman of the Federal Traffic Council and assistant commander-in-chief of Dubai Police, said dashcams would also help in cases where a motorist deliberately causes a crash, such as the incident involving a Dubai taxi driver that has went viral on social media.
“Such practices can be easily recorded by dash cameras,” he said. “For instance, the incident with the taxi driver shows the importance of installing a dash camera in the car. The taxi driver deliberately reversed and hit the car behind him.”
However, UAE law states that taking a photo or video of someone without their consent is illegal as it is invading that person’s privacy.
Lawyer Ali Al Mansoori said that motorists using dashcams, which cost as little as Dh50 online, could be seen to be in direct violation of privacy rules.
“Dash cameras cannot be installed in cars, since they record the roads and people who do not want to be recorded,” he said.
“For instance, a pedestrian is crossing the street and this person was recorded through a dash camera installed in a car. This is clearly breaching privacy rules.
“There are cameras installed in the streets that can be used to detect motorists committing offences or causing traffic accidents.”
Maj Gen Al Zafeen said that dashcams are not illegal and could be used as a vital tool in determining fault in traffic accidents.
“I believe placing a dashboard camera helps motorists and traffic police, as long as it is used to film the road ahead and to help keep drivers out of trouble and to determine fault and liability for motor vehicle accidents,” he said.
“There is no law in the UAE that criminalises the installation of dash cameras. Motorists can even put up their mobile phones and switch on the cameras on the windshield.
“The use of small cameras to film their ride and to collect evidence of clashes with motorists have gained popularity. They will provide recorded evidence if a traffic incident occurs.”
Lawyer Yousef Al Bahar said that dashcams can be used to record the road ahead - as long as they are not used against someone.
“Using a camera to record the road is allowed unless the driver used the recording to defame an individual,” said Mr Al Bahar, who added that invading someone’s privacy by filming them without their consent and sharing the video could result in “detention up to six months and fine of between Dh150,000 and Dh500,000”.
Dash cam videos could also be admissible in court, Mr Al Bahar said.
“It can be used, depending on the case. For example, the incident that took place with the taxi driver. The taxi driver was suspended from work but not criminalised. Evidence has to be conducted carefully and in a sophisticated manner."
However, Mr Al Mansoori was more sceptical. “It’s just like being in a mall and taking video footage of the people inside the mall without their consent,” he said. “I do not encourage such kind of behaviour among motorists.”
Road-safety expert Thomas Edelmann, the founder and managing director of Road Safety UAE, backed Maj Gen Al Zafeen, saying that dash cams would actually help traffic flow too.
“Police demand that accident vehicles are removed out of the flow of traffic to avoid traffic congestion. Motorists who have recorded accidents will be much more willing to swiftly vacate accident scenes and to settle things away from the flowing traffic. Hence, there is a potential positive effect from dashboard cameras,” Mr Edelmann said.
On the invasion of privacy issue, he added: “The authorities have been very clear on this, and we understand that recordings must not be used on social media but exclusively in the case of accidents and only with the involved authorities.”
This is not the first time the issue of whether the use of dash cams is acceptable has been raised in the UAE.
Footage that went viral in 2013 first sparked the debate when an Emirati man was caught on camera assaulting an Indian driver with his agal (the black cord used to keep the ghutrah in place) after a road accident in Dubai. The Indian man who posted the video was charged with defamation, even though the Emirati was charged with assault. All charges were subsequently dropped.
And two years ago The National raised the matter again, with lawyers and residents split on the validity of their use.
Lawyer Amer Al Marzouqi said at the time that any video footage taken from a dashcam would not be considered valid evidence before the courts.
Legal grey area
Owning a dash cam is not illegal in the UAE but the use of them is a bit of a grey area as filming someone without their permission could infringe their privacy.
Dubai Police may welcome videos being submitted via its We Are All Police initiative but it also warns people not to post any incidents on social media as this could lead to prosecution.
Article 378 of the UAE Penal Code clearly states that taking a person’s picture without their consent is considered an invasion of that person’s privacy. Taking photos in restricted areas can result in one to three months in jail or a fine of up to Dh5,000. Publishing pictures of people without their consent can result in a custodial sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to Dh500,000.