Traffic laws seem to be mere suggestions in Taiwan, as drivers routinely commit blatant violations and drive recklessly with little regard for their own safety, let alone the safety of anybody else. The problem is compounded by vehicle density and the swarms of scooters that are characteristic of Taiwan roads. The police, who are lackadaisical about enforcing traffic laws, don’t help the situation either.
In-car camera recorders are very popular in Taiwan to have video evidence of violations and to protect drivers against liability in case of collisions. With the advent of Youtube and these recorders, Taiwan has developed an interesting subculture of citizen traffic cops. Randomly browse through Youtube Taiwan’s most viewed videos in the Auto category and you’ll discover an abundance of videos uploaded by drivers with in-car cameras. Frequently, they’re just sharing their latest recordings of crazy events on the road (this one is a must watch!), but users will help identify license plates of hit-and-runs and submit videos to the police. Particularly popular videos can force the police to take action and make it onto TV news broadcasts. For example, this video was broadcasted a couple days later on national TV.
For my birthday a few months back, my parents bought me this fancy video recorder system by one of the leading Taiwan developers of this tech. It’s called the Hermes MVR 102 by Witness Technology (English site). Some people use their iPhones/Android phones as makeshift dashboard cameras, but this is more sophisticated and can record 4 video inputs simultaneously. The product is a custom rearview mirror (with 2 built-in cameras) that clips onto your pre-existing rearview mirror, with support for 2 additional cameras that can be installed wherever you wish. While an in-car video recorder isn’t as vital for protection in the USA compared to Taiwan, I have been using this device for months and love it.
The best thing about this video system is the convenience. It starts recording automatically whenever I turn on the ignition and never stops recording. Even when the SD card is full, it will instantly overwrite the oldest file so that there’s no interruption in the recording. This means I never have to fiddle with the recorder and most of the time, I even forget it’s there.
Installation was easy too. The system is powered by the cigarette lighter power outlet in the car and clips onto the pre-existing rearview mirror. There’s no awkward attachments hanging from the windshield glass or sitting on the dashboard, which seems to be the standard for similar video recorders. The 2 forward-facing cameras that come mounted onto the device can be adjusted to any direction. Those cameras only account for 2 of the 4 maximum video inputs. If you wish, you can plug in 2 more cameras and set them up wherever you want.
I only have 3 cameras total, one of them facing the rear. Installing this rear camera was a little more tricky. The ideal location is in the trunk above the license plate so the video is clearer and not distorted by glass, but I already have a back-up camera there. So I had to stick the 3rd camera inside the car, mounted to the ceiling with push pins, and hide all the wiring under the car interior panels. Not the best solution but it works. Some people use the 4th camera to film the interior while others install it in the side mirror to film the side of the car (which would probably require professional installation).
An example of someone’s set-up. Here’s also a sample video. There’s a ton of these videos on Youtube Taiwan by people using the Hermes MVR 102, and it’s interesting to see how different people install their cameras.
Once everything was in place, I didn’t need to worry about it and just let it record automatically. Videos are in mpeg-4 format and can be transferred to a computer for archiving. The downside is that the video resolution is only 640 x 480. The Hermes MVR 102 is the 2nd generation of this device and was just released in the past year, so the next model may be a couple years away. I would love to have a HD version of this product, but considering that the current model already costs several hundred dollars, a version with multiple HD cameras is likely currently too expensive for them to produce.
Because of the SD video resolution, I’m somewhat hesitant to recommend this product wholeheartedly. I am not too familiar with competing products, but from what I’ve seen, the ones with a HD camera only support one video input, so it’s not possible to record front, rear, and interior views simultaneously with the same system. Also, they all seem to involve awkward attachments to the windshield or dashboard. So this product is quite unique on the market. I definitely love it and feel extra peace of mind while driving. In fact, whenever I ride in a “normal” car now, it feels strangely naked, like there’s no watchful bubble surrounding the car. This model will do for now, but I can’t wait for a HD version and will upgrade when available.
UPDATE: I found this great post by a Mazda driver in Hong Kong who had his system professionally installed. Lots of nice photos to get a more in-depth look at the cameras and how he had it installed.