Council fits ‘spy’ cameras to beat insurance claims

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ALL new vehicles in Scottish Borders Council’s extensive fleet are to be fitted with black box video recorders, writes Andrew Keddie.

TheSouthern can reveal that the devices, which contain a 1.3 mega pixel high definition camera and have an internal microphone for audio recording, have been the subject of trials for the past six months and are currently installed in 15 vehicles.

An assurance has been given this week that the data picked up by the Roadhawk DC-1 vehicle drive recorder will be primarily used to provide evidence if and when the council faces hostile insurance claims and litigation, and not to spy on council staff or members of the public.

News of the deployment of the high-tech kit came after TheSouthern received a tip-off that the devices had been fitted to 40 vehicles and that the council planned to use them on its entire fleet, including school buses and social work cars.

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said the video footage and sound recordings gathered on a secure digital (SD) card raised security questions and could “easily be copied by anyone with access”.

It was also claimed the police would have open access to this data and that even people walking past a vehicle could have their conversations recorded.

The source alleged that the deployment of the devices was “to protect council staff from the public”.

But John Martin, SBC’s fleet manager, said: “I can confirm SBC is installing Roadhawk camera systems in all new vehicles, but it is actually for accident recording and insurance purposes.

“We currently have 15 fitted to vehicles after six months of trials. The installation of these units, which cost around £166 each, has the full support of our insurance company”.

Mr Martin referred us to the Roadhawk website which revealed the camera on the DC-1 was fitted with a 3D sensor which measured G-force and could detect an accident impact.

In the event of a collision, harsh braking or acceleration, the DC-1 would save a 20 second video clip (10 seconds before and 10 seconds after the event). The SD data storage card could hold over 200 such “events”.

The website also screens a video of a lorry, fitted with a forward facing DC-I, before and after it collided with a car, coming the wrong way up a feeder road, on the A9. As a result of the video evidence, the driver of the lorry, which overturned, was absolved of any blame.

“We have been impressed with the performance of the Roadhawk and its contribution to our accident reduction scheme, providing visual support to back up our driver accident reports,” said Mr Martin. “The Roadhawk DC-1 system can also record audio, but this is limited to inside the vehicle cabin and we have opted to remove this option.

“Further installations will be undertaken, but only on new vehicles at this time, along with other devices, such as speed and engine rev limiters which will return an average of 20 per cent fuel savings and make an added contribution to safer driving.”

Councillor Len Wyse, executive member for environmental services, said there were no sinister implications.

“This is about the council being a responsible employer and ensuring the Council Tax payer does not have to foot the bill for bogus insurance claims,” said Mr Wyse.