Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Mythical Blind Spot

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Almost everyone I've ridden with as a passenger has a "blind spot" (or two). That area to each side of the car, and slightly to the rear, where another car can not be seen in any of the mirrors.  It's there in every car, and it's one of those hazards of the road that we all have to learn to live with ("he was in my blind spot!"). But I'm here to tell you: there is no such thing!
It is usually taken as a given.  Everybody has a blind spot.  That's all there is to it.  The only way to deal with it is usually just to crank your head around and look.  We all do it! And it becomes second nature, so we don't even think about it.

But what if, for some reason, you can't? What if you strained your neck, bruised a rib, or recently had some sort of surgery that causes you great pain to twist your torso?  How are you supposed to know if there's a car there?
Turning to look can also be a safety issue because you're taking your eyes off the road. Have you ever checked your blind spot, only to look forward again and see that traffic has stopped?!? Once your heart-rate comes back down (or after the police report is filed), you'll be cursing that darn "blind spot".

SIDE mirror adjusted to a REAR view.

The Myth

The truth is that 99% of cars do not have a blind spot! The "blind" spot is something we create ourselves by positioning our mirrors improperly.
"What?!?", you say? "My mirrors are right", you say? Well, if you have a blind spot, then, I hate to tell you, they are not.
Almost everyone has their side mirrors adjusted so that the rear of the car is just visible, and the road behind is centered, like the image here.

But ask yourself:
  • Why do you need to see your own car?
  • Why do you need the side mirrors to see behind you?
Seeing your own car is comforting, sure. It helps a driver feel oriented. This is the way we instinctively put our mirrors, because we don't have anything else to line them up with. And I think it can actually be neat to see the road passing by the car, like some image from a movie.
But why? When it comes down to it, if you don't know where your car is while driving, you've got bigger problems than a blind spot.  You know where your car is; you're in it!

                           The rear view mirror is for see behind the car.
And seeing behind you. You're supposed to use mirrors to see behind you, right? That's what mirrors are for!
But, really? That's what side mirrors are for? Why? Isn't that what the rear view mirror is for?
There is (usually) no need for an additional view of the rear. The rear view mirror is there for the explicit purpose of seeing what's behind the vehicle. Having an additional view from the side mirrors doesn't really buy you anything.

How to adjust your side mirrors.

Positioning your mirrors, and consequently eliminating your blind spot, is sooooooo easy that I am still baffled by how many people still drive with blind spots.
The solution is: move your side mirrors out:
  1. Start with your mirrors in the usual position, where you can see the back end of your car
  2. Move them out so you can no longer see the car
  3. See if you still have a blind spot on either side, that mirror needs to moved out more.
If you have a car with power mirrors, you may be able to do this while driving. But do so carefully, and only make small adjustments. You don't want to be getting into an accident because you were screwin' around with your side mirrors, staring at them for 20 seconds at a time!
Another option is to find a parking lot cars that are fairly well spaced. Park next to another car so that it is directly in your blind spot, make your adjustments, then move forward and backward to make sure the blind spot is gone.
You'll eventually have to test it on the road, just don't forget about what's in front of you!
How do you know when your blind spot is gone? The basic rule-of-thumb for when a car on either side is passing is:
  1. when the car is leaving the rear view mirror, it should be visible in the side view mirror
  2. when the car is leaving the side view mirror, it should be visible through the side window
During both of those "transitions", you should be able to see the other car in BOTH places (i.e. at some point you should see it in both your rear view and side view mirrors).

You can thank me later

The hardest thing about this process is getting used to the new mirror positions. At first, it's almost disorienting! You're so used to seeing the back end of your car, it almost seems like the side mirrors are askew, off in left field. I know very experienced drivers who understand how to eliminate the blind spot (because I've told them how), but are just more "comfortable" with their mirrors in the improper position. But just wait! It takes several days to get used to it. Step out of your comfort zone a bit; it's good for you! :)
The other thing that can make this difficult is learning to trust your side mirrors. We are so used to looking, and we trust our own eyes. How can we change lanes when we don't really, truly, for sureknow there's NO car there??? Okay. Go ahead, turn your head and look. But every time you do, take note of how unnecessary it was. There's nothing there that can't be seen through the mirrors!

Occasionally, there is a need to look. (So, don't come after me if something happens) But, it's rare. For example, a car from two lanes away may not be visible if you and he are both changing into the same lane (looking might not even catch this). And if you haven't been paying attention, then something small, like a motorcycle, might be sneaky enough to escape your view.
But for the most part, if you are keeping track of what's going on on the road around you, you won't have any issues.
Good luck.  And safe driving!

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