The use of dash cams has risen in recent years with a quarter of UK drivers now using one. I downloaded Aviva’s free version, via the Aviva Drive app, to see why this handy gadget is the latest must-have car accessory.
Confession time: I hate driving in London. I loathe it. In fact, I’d rather get the bus.
Unfortunately, the car is a faster and much more comfortable way to ferry my small children around. And I’m a pretty good driver, a safe one, that is. I’ve not had an accident. Yet.
One thing I do like however is getting free stuff so, when I heard that Aviva had a dash cam app I could download for nothing, naturally I was keen to give it a go.
If you’re not familiar with them, dash cams are small cameras that record your view of the road so – if you’re unlucky enough to have an accident – you can prove exactly what happened.
I’d been curious about buying one (having had some near misses in the past), so saw the appeal, but didn’t really want to pay for one (the cost varies from £30 to £500) or wire it into my car.
And I’m not alone. More than 10.9 million1 UK drivers currently use a dash cam, their popularity perhaps fuelled by the fear of ‘crash for cash’ (a known scam where car accidents are staged by fraudsters so they can make an insurance claim) and unease about the poor state of driving standards in general.
Here’s what I learned when I tried the Aviva Drive dash cam app for a week.
Setting it up
When I told friends I was trialling a dash cam, one told me about the time he bought and attempted to set up a conventional dash cam, only to abandon it thanks to the myriad fiddly wires he was tasked to attach. He returned it and vowed never again.
Thankfully, the app was idiot-proof. After downloading it from my app store, I just had to open it, scroll through some short instructions and press start to record my journey.
The dash cam in place. Image: Aviva.
Getting the position right on my car was a bit harder, as you want the camera to get a full view of the road without obstructing your own. Aviva recommends using the app with a cradle you attach to your windscreen (pictured), which sounds more daunting to set up than it was.
I was given my cradle by Aviva, but a quick Google assured me they can be bought online for around £10.
Other people’s driving
When I downloaded the app I had visions of triumphantly capturing the city’s most hostile, dangerous drivers on film.
I live opposite a primary school on a very narrow road and the traffic around the gates can be a bit scary at times. I found it reassuring to know that, should someone clip my wing mirror, I could prove I wasn’t at fault.
Apart from the school run (which is brutal), my week using the dash cam made me realise London drivers are not that bad. Sure, there are a few people who can’t park or who do drive aggressively, but since I’ve been testing the app I haven’t seen anything truly dangerous.
People observe the speed limit, indicate and, on occasion, even let other drivers out. Aren’t we a considerate lot?
My own driving
I’ve become hyper-aware of my own driving since using the app. Perhaps when I’ve used it for longer I’ll become less self conscious, but for now it’s stopped me gong into autopilot on occasion, which is a good thing.
And it’s not just me. Research suggests that using a dash cam might make people safer drivers. According to a study by Aviva, 46% of drivers2 who tested their dash cam claimed that their driving had improved since using it.
And if critiquing my own driving isn’t enough, the app also monitors it and, helpfully, gives me a score out of 10. Gentle braking, a safe speed and smooth acceleration are all favoured.
I found this quite annoying at first. Then I realised that if, after 200 miles, the app deems you a safe driver, Aviva grants you a discount on your insurance when it’s time to renew.
Oh, and you won’t get penalised if your driving isn’t quite up to scratch. Happy days.
Phones are a distraction
The app doesn’t allow you to take calls, play music or use your sat-nav on your phone while the dash cam feature is in use.
That’s fine, I thought. My humble Yaris doesn’t boast the latest systems that connect your phone to your dash, and I don’t need a sat-nav.
What I have learned is that I use my phone more than I realise, mostly by taking hands-free calls. This is, of course, perfectly legal, but can be distraction.
I was pleased I could use the app with the ‘Driving – Do Not Disturb’ feature on, and put it to good use.
I didn’t have an accident while trialling the app, but was curious to see what would happen if I did.
My wish was soon granted. The app is sensitive and it ‘detected’ that I’d had an accident on a couple of occasions: once, when I dropped the phone when taking it out of the cradle and another time when I drove over a speed bump too quickly.
The app retains 30 seconds of footage before and after a suspected collision. It actually records the entire journey but on a loop, only keeping it if an accident is detected or if you touch the screen. If not, the video is deleted automatically so as not to use up precious memory on your phone.
Watching the video. Image: Aviva.
You then have the option to be put straight through to Aviva’s claims team and send your footage to them from the app directly, if you wish.
Great news if you’re an Aviva motor insurance customer but I’m not sure how it works if you insure elsewhere (you don’t have to be insured with Aviva to use the app).
The dash cam on the Aviva Drive app is easy to use, quick to set up (once your cradle is in place) and free – the fact it rewards safer driving habits with an insurance discount is a nice bonus too. It’s also reassuring to know that the footage could be used as evidence and help resolve my claim more quickly if I was in an accident.
But it’s not perfect. The collision detection software is a little too sensitive (although this is better than not picking up genuine accidents) and drains my year-old Samsung 7’s battery if I’m on a long journey. Aviva recommends using an in-car phone charger for this reason.
It only records the view in front of your vehicle, so if you’re hit from behind the recording won’t be of much use (other than to prove you weren’t reversing). There’s nothing stopping you from setting it up to face the other way, but I imagine this would be a bit of a chore.
All in all, the dash cam app is a fantastic bit of in-car tech, and it’s free, so I’ll continue to use it and look forward to receiving my discount next year.
1Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva in June 2018.
2Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva in June 2018.