From the September/October edition of The Driver magazine:
When I first started to write my regular driving column, I had to come up with a catchy title for it. After some thought, I came up with “Through My Rear View Mirror” since a lot of traffic is seen through the mirror. Up to this point, I haven’t really addressed mirrors, so let’s take a look and reflect on them now.
When I’m teaching students to drive at Young Drivers of Canada, I show them when and how often they should check their mirrors. How often do you think you should check your rear view mirror? Would you believe checking the rear view mirror every 5 to 8 seconds is ideal? It’s true! It keeps you up to date with what’s happening behind you. If you also check your mirror before you slow down, before and after you make turns and while stopped, it will keep you properly informed with what’s approaching you from behind.
Checking the mirror has a lot to do with short term memory. If you glance in the mirror, do you really remember what you saw? Do you use it to see who may be coming up beside you as well? For example, the driver you just saw in your mirror who is driving in the next lane from yours may be entering your blind spot. Once you check your mirror again, you need to recognize if they aren’t visible any longer. Where did they go? Did they turn off that road, or are they hidden within your blind spot? Short term memory needs to be used so you can remember what you saw and respond accordingly.
Many people forget what they’ve seen in their mirrors. I’ve tested this theory many times with experienced, licensed drivers; not just novice drivers. After I’ve noticed the driver checking their rear view mirror, I cover it up with my hand and ask them what was behind them. More times than not they couldn’t tell me, and they often looked into their side mirror to answer my question. Why couldn’t they tell me right away? Why did they check their mirror if they didn’t get any information from it?
Improving your short term memory is very important if you’re going to use the mirrors more effectively. There are many cognitive training programs out there that can help you improve your short term memory and remember more things while driving. I think it would be a good investment of time and money if each driver improved their cognitive skills.
Having the side mirrors angled so you can see down the side of your vehicle can also help you leave a parked position. If you’re parked on the street and have a large vehicle parked behind you, your rear view mirror is useless as all you can see in it is the parked vehicle. If angled correctly, you can use the side mirror to see if there’s a vehicle approaching from behind. This will give you the needed information to pull away from the curb safely. Having the mirrors angled much further away from the vehicle won’t allow you to do that. (http://safedriving.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/how-do-you-set-up-your-mirrors/ )
If you’re stopped in traffic and have a larger vehicle stopped behind you, it can make a rear crash difficult to avoid. The large vehicle would completely fill your rear view mirror and you wouldn’t know if you needed to move out of the way. Having the side mirrors set up to see a sliver of the vehicle, and set at eye level, will also allow you to see if another vehicle is approaching too fast behind that larger vehicle; thus giving you the information and time needed to avoid a rear crash.
I’ve taken licensed drivers out for re-training for many years in order to give them feedback on their driving skills. Some drivers do check their mirrors within the 5 to 8 seconds, while others need to improve the frequency of their glances. Maybe they thought it was every 5 to 8 minutes! They would check their mirrors to check to see if their hair or make-up was still looking good, but not to check up on the traffic behind them. What did they think the mirror was really for anyway?
After completing a turn is also a good time for a mirror check. I’ve seen drivers make a turn onto a busy street with other drivers approaching quickly from behind them. If they checked their mirrors immediately after turning, they would see the drivers approaching from behind and could respond by speeding up to avoid slowing down the traffic flow. Using the information that is seen through the mirror is equally as important as checking the mirror. Why check the mirror if you aren’t going to use the information as a driver?
My suggestions would not only help you, but help the other road users around you. It could also help you improve your image!