In the age of smartphones and social media, groups like the Facebook page Dash Cam NL provide a public forum to catch bad drivers in the act.
St. John’s resident Darren Tucker has posted several videos to the page, capturing vehicles dangerously speeding through stop signs and turns that are near misses. He says Dash Cam NL, which currently has over 7,600 followers, is a useful tool for discouraging poor driving decisions.
“I know a couple people who have made mistakes and will say ‘I’m going to end up on Dash Cams NL now,’” said Tucker. “It can be a deterrent for people to start driving sensible.”
Police have a differing view. Particularly with footage where a licence plate or a visual of the driver is available, RCMP Staff-Sgt. Dave Ossinger - who is in charge of the traffic services division in Newfoundland - would prefer to see videos submitted directly to the RCMP rather than posted on social media.
“When a case is before the courts and it involves dash cam footage, it is certainly important to remind people to not share court evidence in a public forum,” he said. “Details in police investigation are classified as protected information not meant to be shared with the public.
“I would hope that someone who asks us to open an investigation would then not subsequently put that evidence in the public sphere.”
The worst footage Tucker ever recorded came when he witnessed a vehicle speeding through a stop sign and nearly hitting a pedestrian about to cross. But because it occurred at night and he did not get a visual of the driver or the vehicle’s licence plate, he decided against sending it to police.
Justin Nagle bought a dash cam shortly after purchasing a vehicle over a year ago. Nearly every day, he says he encounters some act of bad driving that’s worth preserving.
Like Tucker, he sees value in the public pressure and shaming a group like Dash Cam NL can put on drivers. Nagle even had the driver from a video he posted leave a comment on the Facebook page.
The video involved a vehicle turning out of a gas station that nearly resulted in a collision with Nagle.
“The driver eventually found the page and agreed that he shouldn’t have taken the turn,” Nagle said. “I think (Dash Cam NL) does improve people’s driving. People can see the same intersections they take and the reckless things people can do and think that number one, that is dangerous, and number two, I don’t want to end up on this Facebook page.”
Since placing the camera situated on his dashboard, Nagle says it is a steady reminder to watch his own driving habits as well.
“There’s things as a driver you often don’t think about in the moment, but in retrospect, you watch the footage and think ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that turn, or maybe I should have slowed down there’,” he said.
According to Ossinger, these videos can serve as a great starting point for a police investigation. With cameras so readily available through either dash cams or people’s smartphones, it is evidence the RCMP and RNC receive more often.
But Ossinger says the extent to which these videos result in charges or arrests depends on several factors, such as what is revealed in the video, how recent the video was taken, and if the person who captured the footage is willing to cooperate as a witness.
“My impression of social media is that sometimes these public forums can foster healthy discussions, but sadly, more often than not, they can also foster a lot of conflict.” — RCMP Staff-Sgt. Dave Ossinger
“It’s important for people to realize that a video is only one brick in a wall of evidence we’re trying to build,” he said. “Video is often not going to be able to capture and identify a driver, so further investigation is always going to be needed. I personally don’t use these groups [like Dash Cam NL] as an investigative tool, because it’s often hard to link those videos with someone who made an infraction.”
And, he adds, sometimes this type of public forum can escalate problems.
“My impression of social media is that sometimes these public forums can foster healthy discussions, but sadly, more often than not, they can also foster a lot of conflict,” Ossinger said. “The critical discussions that get attached to videos that are posted - I worry people are going to be escalating conflict rather than resolving anything in that format.”
Most of the comments Tucker has seen on Dash Cam NL remains civil – except for the occasional curse words.
“You get some people that will put some foul language about the person who posted the video or driver,” he said. “I haven't seen any threats or anything like that."
The administrators of Dash Cam NL were contacted for comment but did not respond by deadline.