Increasing Vehicle Safety: Side-View Mirrors

One of the first important steps we learned to take during driver’s education was to adjust the mirrors so we could see properly. Sit up straight in the driver’s seat and check the mirrors to make sure they were at the right level. The way we were told to adjust the passenger or side-view mirror was to position it until you could just see the side of the car while sitting in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, positioning side-view mirrors in that way leaves a large blind spot that a car can disappear in. As the car leaves the rear-view mirror, you do not see it as it comes up close to the rear bumper, unless you are diligent about turning your head to check. There is, however, a way to position your side-view mirrors so that the blind spot is nearly eliminated.

According to Tom and Ray Magliozzi of Car Talk, who got their information from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) here is the correct way to position your side-view mirrors.

“Start by setting your rear view mirror as you normally would. Then, lean your head all the way to the left so it touches the driver’s window. From that position, set your left side-view mirror so you can see the back corner of your car. Now lean the same distance the other way, and set your right side-view mirror the same way.

“Now, here’s what happens. When a car comes up behind you, you should first see it in your rearview mirror. But as it passes you (let’s say on your left), you’ll see it move to the left side of your rearview mirror. And as its left headlight disappears from your rearview mirror, it should instantly show up in your left side-view mirror. There should be no delay. It should slip from one to the other, so you can always see it.”

To make sure the mirrors are set correctly, test it out in a parking lot or other location where you can safely and slowly pull up to a car. Test your mirrors-you should always be able to see the car-it should move from your rear view mirror to your driver’s side or passenger’s side mirror with no break until you can spot it with your peripheral vision.

Positioning your mirrors may eliminate a large part of the blind spot, but it does not completely solve the problem. Many people, including those at the Automobile Safety Foundation and the European Commission on Automotive Industry state that the best method of resolving blind spots is to use a convex mirror (those mirrors that state “Objects are closer than they appear” on them) that can be affixed to the passenger side mirror to eliminate any visibility problems. In May 2005, they issued the following press release:

“Automobiles are being equipped with unsafe side view mirrors. These mirrors have a hazardous blind area that conceals quickly approaching or nearby vehicles causing lane changing endangerment. ASF recommends aftermarket products such as convex mirrors that can be affixed to the side-view mirrors to help eliminate this lack of safe visibility.
ASF recommends that all automobile companies take remedial action on the production of side-view mirrors, and begin the manufacture of safe side view mirrors as standard equipment.
Allow this news release to serve as a petition to the NHTSA/DOT for safe side view mirrors production, as a federal mandate.
ASF also urges state government to address this safety issue on all state operated motor vehicles. “

Studies done by the Ford Motor Company have demonstrated that convex passenger side mirrors enhance traffic detection. To quote from the study: “The field of view maps show that convex passenger side mirrors provide a 19.5-degree field of view vs. a 5-degree field of view with flat mirrors.” In addition, in a study done by the NHTSA, there was a 17.6% reduction in accidents for vehicles using convex mirrors.

The European Union is implementing a new directive on rear view mirrors and supplementary indirect vision systems for motor vehicles. This directive is being phased in over a five-year period and should be completed by 2010. The directive includes the following rules:

  • Increasing the mandatory minimum field of vision for certain vehicles;
  • Mounting additional mirrors on certain vehicles;
  • Upgrading technical characteristics of mirrors in line with technical progress;
  • Replacing certain mirrors with other indirect vision systems, such as camera/monitor systems

Ensure your mirrors are positioned correctly, even if your passenger side mirror is convex. Logically, we should be responsible for ensuring our vehicles are safe on the road. Mirror positioning and convex mirrors can help us attain a greater degree of safety.

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