Here’s what happened when I tried Aviva’s free dash cam for a week

The Aviva dash cam in action. Image: Aviva.
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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.

Accidents happen

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).

Final thoughts

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.

This is a sponsored article by Aviva. Find out more about the dash cam app here.

1Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva in June 2018.

2Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva in June 2018.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.