New in-car cameras will film accidents to prove who is at fault.
A $200 small black box fitted to the windscreen of your car could help to lower your car insurance premium in the future, and help you prove you weren't at fault in a car accident.
The recording units for cars - dubbed the "black box" after the flight recording device used by commercial airlines - can marry recorded video with GPS information to provide irrefutable evidence to authorities and insurance companies of the events leading up to an accident.
Owning the Big Brother-style technology could eventually also help to lower your insurance premium, with car insurance companies in Britain already offering discounts after noting that drivers who had installed the units were involved in fewer, and less expensive, accidents. Australian insurance companies are closely monitoring the trend.
But there's a darker side to the technology, which has the potential to also allow bosses to remotely monitor the location, speed and driving patterns of employees, from sales reps and couriers to taxi drivers and anyone else who drives a company-supplied vehicle.
An employer installing such a monitoring device without gaining an employee's consent would be "an outrageous invasion of the employee's privacy", the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said.
After-market automotive black box video recorders have soared in popularity in European and Asian markets, where several unusual driving incidents have already been caught on tape including one where a Korean driver's accelerator became stuck and another in Russia where a car was catapulted into the air by a manhole cover.
One such unit released this week, the Navig8r Crash Cam Black Box, records a driver's-eye view of everything that happens in front of the car in high-definition video, as well as logging the exact position and speed of the car via a GPS tracker. It will be sold for less than $200.
A British company, Co-operative Insurance, analysed 10,000 insurance policies held by drivers aged 18 to 25 who already use telematics, or a black box unit. It found they were 20 per cent less likely to be involved in a crash than those with a standard policy. Claims made by customers with a telematics-based policy were on average 30 per cent less expensive, it also found.
It's a statistic that has caught the attention of Australian-based NRMA Insurance, although spokeswoman Adele Buhagiar says it has no current plan to offer a telematics-based policy, although "we look into these new technologies all the time".
However, she confirmed the company's claims department would accept evidence supplied from a black box unit as part of its investigation process.
"We already do this in claims where CCTV footage is provided by the customer - from car park and service stations, for example - so it's an extension of this," she says.
The manufacturer of the Navig8r unit, Laser Corporation, says it "can be employed in a commercial capacity" as a "driver surveillance tool" in a number of applications - even listing car dealerships, which can keep an eye on customers during a test drive.
"(It) ensures, in the event of an accident or collision, or even a robbery, the organisation can establish the driver or thief responsible, safeguarding them from undue insurance claims," the company says.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy says the black box units - and any form of tracking built into cars - have the potential to infringe on privacy.
"Obviously they're useful devices in terms of providing evidence. What we need to do is make sure they're not devices that are misused in terms of tracking people around the place," he says.
"There's a great capacity for misuse, for example by employers, who might monitor every move of a vehicle used by an employee.
"It's an outrageous invasion of the employee's privacy, it breaks down the trust relationship there might be between employers and employees.
"It shouldn't be compulsory for them to be in vehicles and they shouldn't be there without people's knowledge or consent."
Murphy says the Workplace Surveillance Act in NSW requires employers to notify their workers if they plan to put them under surveillance.
However, the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report on Surveillance in Public Places says there is little regulation of the use of surveillance devices in public places in Victoria.
“Existing laws are unclear, they have not kept pace with technological change, and they do not appear to be actively enforced. There is widespread uncertainty among surveillance users and the community about which surveillance activities are permitted in public places,” the report says.
Murphy advocates a commonsense approach to surveillance. “If someone genuinely knows that their every move is going to be monitored and genuinely consents to that, that’s a matter for them. There’s no problem at all. That could provide significant advantages,” he says.
"But I can also see on the other side there's a great capacity for misuse where people don't know they're being monitored and that's simply not reasonable."