I’ve recently written an article for The Driver magazine outlining when the mirrors should be checked http://safedriving.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/how-often-should-you-check-your-mirror/ but here’s another debate to bring up; mirror set up. How should the mirrors be set up to give the driver the best advantage? The purpose of the mirrors is to allow the driver to be kept up to date with approaching drivers before they get into the driver’s blind spots. They are also designed to help drivers avoid rear crashes; which is North America’s most commonly reported crash.
The traditional way to set up your inside mirror was for it to frame the inside of your rear window. This still works as it allows the driver to take a quick glance of who is approaching them directly from behind. If you’re sitting in a relaxed position, with your back up against the back of the seat, you should be able to make a quick glance in the rear view mirror without much body movement at all. If you see too much of the ceiling or seats, please re-adjust your mirror.
The major debate seems to come from the side mirror set up. The traditional way was to glance into the driver’s side mirror so you could see a sliver of the vehicle and straight back at eye level. The same went for the passenger side mirror. The interesting thing is that we all seem to call these mirrors a “side mirror”, when in reality it’s an “outside rear view mirror”. They widen the rear view for the driver.
There’s some discussion out there that, as a driver, if you lean as far to your right and then adjust the side mirror to see a sliver of the vehicle, it will eliminate the blind spot to the right. Apparently, if you lean to the driver’s door and do the same thing for the driver’s side mirror, it will eliminate the blind spot on that side. Really? Why do I want to do that? If the side mirrors are set away from the vehicle, I reduce my chance to avoid rear crashes. Remember, they are the most common type of crash in North America. A quick glance over your shoulder to check your blind spot takes a millisecond. Here’s the best part, if you’ve been checking your mirrors on a regular basis, you’ll know who’s about to come beside you and enter into your blind spot. This way, you won’t be surprised when you see someone there after you check it.
To reduce the size of your blind spot on the driver’s side, at Young Drivers of Canada, we’ll teach our students to turn their head to a 45° angle before lining up the side mirror so a sliver of the vehicle is visible in the mirror. This will allow them to see down the side of their vehicle. Now, if they look straight ahead and just move their eyes, not turn their head to the side mirror, it shows more to the side of the vehicle. The blind spot to the driver’s side is drastically reduced, but they can still see down the side of the vehicle when they need to. When would they need to?
Let’s say you’ve been stopped in traffic and a larger vehicle, like a van with tinted windows or a truck, stops behind you. If you can’t see through their vehicle from your rear view mirror and another driver comes up behind them too quickly to stop in time, you won’t be able to avoid the rear crash because you won’t know you need to. If your side mirrors are angled away from your vehicle, you won’t be able to use them either to gather this information. You’ll end up as another statistic from another rear crash. If you can still use your outside mirrors to see down the side of your vehicle, you’ll need to position your vehicle to either side of your lane while stopping so you can use the outside mirror when a larger vehicle is approaching you from behind. This puts you in a proactive state of mind in case you need to move out of the way from the multiple rear crash.
A side swipe is the least of your problems when a rear crash is more common. A quick glance over your shoulder allows the driver to see what’s around them before changing lanes. If the outside mirrors aren’t set up to assist you to see around larger vehicles while stopped, what’s the point? Ask any truck driver who is dependent on checking their mirrors. They have to rely on their mirrors because they have no other choice. We do have a choice.
A compromise here may be needed for crashes to be reduced everywhere. Set your mirrors up so you can have a solution to both side swipes and rear crashes; not just the side swipe. My advice now is to play with both techniques for awhile and see which works for you. You may be surprised with the results.