You may not have even heard of the National Dash Cam Safety Portal (NDSP) before, but it exists.

The scheme allows anyone to upload recorded footage to a dedicated website which they believe to be an incident worth investigation by police. You first choose your area in the UK, and this will dictate which police force receives the footage. It sounds like a great idea to catch criminal behaviour doesn’t it, yet there is criticism of the website – but why?

Nextbase, who look after the NDSP website, has released some figures which has pushed the scheme into the forefront of the news. They say that 50% of uploaded video footage has resulted in a conviction. That may be a bit of a surprise to a cynical public, who might expect that only a small proportion of uploaded content would even be looked at, let alone used as part of a case against an individual.

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Recently, BBC documentary series Inside Out revealed that the Nextbase portal has seen around 10,000 uploads with 5,000 of those being used by police to secure a conviction; though impressive as this might be, only 28 of the UK’s 39 police forces are so far signed up to the scheme. I suspect this number might now rise.

There are approximately 37 million vehicles on the roads in the UK; surely a number that is impossible to police 100% effectively, so how could there possibly be any objection to such a technologically advanced scheme? Automotive journalist Quentin Wilson is a supporter of the Nextbase portal, saying that we need ‘an army of eyes’ to assist the police, citing the dash cam as a deterrent as well as something to be used as evidence after the event. Preventing crime is a key objective of our law enforcers of course, but with dash cams not presently being a mandatory accessory for public use vehicles, the argument is that a criminal being aware of dash cams might even make those automobiles without them more vulnerable – presuming they are capable of recording all the time of course and not just when the engine is on and an occupant is present.

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Detractors have also suggested that this might eventually result in less traffic police on our roads, arguing that traffic police are the biggest criminal deterrent of all. Another argument is that the figure of 10,000 is just the tip of an as yet unknown iceberg; as more and more people upload suspected video ‘evidence’, what sort of manpower will be required to keep the scheme workable?

The website caters for dangerous driving, driving without due care and attention and using a mobile phone illegally among other things. Video footage doesn’t directly have to be the result of a dash cam either – mobile phone/camera footage is also acceptable as long as it pertains to a relevant incident. An interesting point to note is that Nextcam felt the need to add in that poor footage cannot be enhanced to produce a clean image and therefore identify a person or a number plate if not already clear in the original footage – no doubt as a result of what we have seen miraculously occur in numerous police, spy and surveillance movies such as Enemy of the State. The bottom line is simply that if the image data is not there in the first place, no amount of enhancing will reveal what doesn’t exist.

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There’s no doubt that we have come a long way in a relatively short space of time. We are at a stage where even the most rudimentary phone will have a reasonable quality camera (it’s all about the sensor rather than pixel counts, but that’s another matter), and there are more than 3 billion users worldwide according to Statistica, and thus the NDSP scheme becomes workable – as long as it doesn’t get overloaded.

The monitoring of our roads and motoring will always have detractors, from those simply arguing that any form of camera monitoring is a nod towards Big Brother, to those who are worried about knock-on effects. We still have plenty who detest the speed camera; yet stay within legal limits and there is surely nothing to fear from them.

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There are growing arguments being made in favour of kitting out all new cars with dash cams routinely, and with the technology becoming ever more portable, we have seen cyclists and now even runners using the likes of GoPro to record their road-going journeys. My own thoughts are that the website is a good idea, and the use of a dash cam is nothing to worry about and just might make a legitimate case against illegal activity more sound. It’s worth noting though that if you are a company and use a dash cam on your work vehicle during working hours, you might be required to pay an ICO annual data protection fee to comply with the latest GDPR rules.

Although the fear is that the Nextbase website will inevitably become overwhelmed, the site does have a series of guidelines to familiarise yourself with before uploading a video in an attempt to make the user self-regulate. Though in a world where the threat of a pandemic results in the mass buying of toilet rolls, I wonder how many will bother to check through these guidelines in the first place, so the real question is this: do the resources exist to allow the National Dash Cam Safety Portal to organically grow?

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