Big brother won’t be watching yet: UK police aren’t planning to adopt controversial dashcam phone app

1 of 4

A Ukranian app that turns your smartphone into a dashcam that can upload evidence straight to the police is trying to launch in the UK in this year, according to its maker.

DashcamUa (or DashcamUK as it will be called here) uses your phone’s camera hardware to record 30 seconds of footage at a time that overwrites itself as you drive. If you feel the need to record something that has happened on the road more permanently, touching anywhere on the screen will save the last 30 seconds to device storage.

“The main idea of our start-up, and the whole product, actually, is reducing the amount of fatalities on the roads,” DashcamUa founder, Oleksiy (Alex) Afonin told MCN. “That is why we’re focusing on violations like running red lights, illegal overtaking and stuff like that.

Reporting an offence through the DashcamUa app

“It’s not about punishing people, it’s about changing the psychology of the drivers. In any country where we’re trying to promote our technology we see that drivers are actually behaving well when they know that there is a police care or a camera.

“But if there are no police, no cameras, they tend to behave not in the best way. With our technology, a police camera can be in any car and you don’t know which car is running the application.

“So you have to behave all the time correctly, respectfully to other drivers not breaking even the tiniest rules. So, then we’ve got the change in mentality, meaning that you’re driving carefully, always, not just in front of the cameras or in front of the police.

DashcamUa in use on a car dashboard

“This reduces the number of violations, which in turn reduces the number of crashes and also the number of the fatalities on the road, which is our main aim.”

Afonin has already launched the app in his native Ukraine, and now he’s taken the idea to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) ahead of trying to bring it to the UK.

But Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Cox told MCN: “DashcamUK is not endorsed by the NPCC. We have made significant progress with public reporting of road crime and now have a national approach enabling this.

“The police alone cannot be everywhere all the time so by enabling the public to be our additional eyes and ears, we can help deter dangerous and reckless behaviour. We review submissions from dashcam and where appropriate will take action which can and has led to offenders being disqualified from driving.”

How the DashcamUK app works

The footage that is saved can be reviewed afterwards and users can pause and zoom to get details like numberplates. Once the details are all filled in, the idea is for the footage to be sent directly to the relevant police force so that the offenders can be prosecuted.

In the app’s native Ukraine, the designers are even trying to secure a change in the law that will mean the uploader can receive a percentage of any fines given.

Police in the UK already use submission portals under the banner of Operation Snap where members of the public can share footage they have captured with the authorities. And standalone dashcam firm NextBase offer their own service as part of this initiative, too.

DashcamUa app in use

But unlike the types of footage taken by standard dashcams, phones or action cameras, the data captured by DashcamUK is secured with the kind of tech usually reserved for online banking. This, says Afonin, means the police can trust the footage implicitly.

“With the use of modern technology, unprotected video can be easily augmented,” he continues. “Think of Deep Fake technology which can easily switch faces of different people. So to switch the numberplate on a vehicle is quite an easy task for it.

“Next is date, time and location – these crucial parameters are of extreme importance for the legal prosecutions, but any citizen can change it, even unintentionally just by making a typo while submitting the report to the police.

“It is completely different story if we talk about smartphone with secure mobile application. Now, with secure information received by police lots of automation can be implemented which can speed up the processing work of the police officers and make them much more efficient.”

What offences can the DashcamUK app record?

There are currently 21 road violations that DashcamUK say they can look for, but they don’t entirely match up with UK law at this stage. The most appropriate are running red lights, using a mobile phone while driving, running a red light, failure to give a priority to ambulance and firefighters vehicles, violations at a railway crossing, illegal overtaking and failure to comply with road markup rules.

Speeding offences aren’t currently on the list, and UK police do not currently prosecute speeding offences using footage submitted from the public due to difficulty in proving its accuracy.

But Afonin would like to see that change. He added: “That’s going to be our next case. We’re already developing the technology that allows us to use advanced features of mobile phones to track speed. The most important thing is the measurement because all the violations that we can prove right now can be confirmed visually, we’re not measuring anything.

“The average Apple iPhone is now 100 thousand times more powerful than the computer that launched the Apollo mission to the moon. So yes, we are still in development. The technology is not proven yet, that’s true, but this is something that will be on the market soon, yeah.”

MCN also asked Afonin, a biker himself, what he would say to riders who were nervous of the prospect that any other vehicle on the road could effectively be a mobile speed camera or saw it as a violation of their civil liberty. He said: “I think it’s totally fair. If nobody’s on the road, nobody will be filming you right? So you do all the crazy stuff you want to do. But if somebody else is on the road, they can film you. I mean, you endanger their life and they can film you. That’s fair.”