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The statue of Justice atop the U.S. Supreme Court wears a blindfold.

No one would drive a car in that condition.  However, when it comes to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard for sideview mirrors, the U.S. government agency in charge of auto safety is not only blind, but also oblivious to the simplest and easiest method readily available to reduce highway carnage.  And Detroit, as usual, is equally incompetent, acquiescing to a system that it knows is unsafe.

Most freeway collisions are caused by a lane change into an occupied lane or rear ending a car while looking back to determine if an adjacent lane is open.

Preventing many of these collisions, and in many cases resulting rollovers, is simple.  Set sideview mirrors to the blind spot and only use the interior mirror for a view to the rear.  That is the practice followed by racecar drivers, savvy traffic officers and professional truckers, crash reconstructionists and anyone who studies highway accidents, deaths and injuries.

On the other hand the Federal Safety Standard for outside mirrors assumes that the sideview mirror should operate as a rearview mirror and be set to see traffic behind the vehicle.  Not only is that a tragic mistake, it is truly dumb.

The standard reads like it was written by one of those “easy set-up” manuals every Santa Claus must endure on Christmas Eve.

S5.2 Outside rearview mirror–driver’s side. Field of view. Each passenger car shall have an outside mirror of unit magnification. The mirror shall provide the driver a view of a level road surface extending to the horizon from a line, perpendicular to a longitudinal plane tangent to the driver’s side of the vehicle at the widest point, extending 2.4 m out from the tangent plane 10.7 m behind the driver’s eyes, with the seat in the rearmost position. The line of sight may be partially obscured by rear body or fender contours. The location of the driver’s eye reference points shall be those established in Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 104 (§571.104) or a nominal location appropriate for any 95th percentile male driver. [Emphasis added.]

The standard presumes side mirrors should be used to provide a rearward view back along the side of the vehicle which can be “partially obscured” by the car’s body.

Designing sideview mirrors to see traffic directly behind a vehicle, eliminates the most critical viewing need: clearing the blind spot, where potential death lurks in a lane change at 75 mph.  It is far more important to see traffic in the blind spot at the side of a vehicle than to see what is behind.

Make your cars freeway safe.

The next time you are stopped for a traffic light set your side mirrors to show you cars in your blind spots.  These are vehicles that you will not be able to see in your interior rearview mirror.

Once on a freeway with your adjusted mirrors, follow this procedure when making a lane change and put yourself in that top category of professional drivers, just like Scott Dixon, Mario Andretti, Ed Carpenter, A. J. Foyt, Victor Meira and Graham Rahal, who use this same procedure to avoid lane change crashes:

1.  Turn signal.

2.  Check rearview mirror for advancing traffic.

3.  A momentary shift of your eyes to the sideview mirror instantly will tell you if there is a car in your blind spot.

4.  Make sure traffic is safely ahead so you can avoid an unexpected emergency.

5.  In tight traffic, shift your foot above the brake pedal, just in case you need to brake for an emergency.

6.  Now reconfirm your blind spot is free for your lane change.

This procedure gives you a substantial safety advantage because it minimizes your “look back” time.

Many people look back as long as 2 to 3 seconds and ignore traffic developments ahead of them.

Next time you are a passenger check it out.  Silently count the seconds a driver devotes to looking back over their shoulder and remember at 70 mph you are traveling 105 feet a second.  In two seconds you have covered two-thirds of a football field.  Warning: this can be a frightening experience.

The Federal Safety Standard for Sideview Mirrors should be changed, as well as the way we teach new drivers, especially teenagers, to adjust and use their mirrors to avoid lane change collisions and rollovers.

The current “safety” regulation induces collisions that easily could be avoided.  In addition to rear end collisions, SUV rollovers commnly occur as a result of last minute attempts by drivers to swerve when making a lane change to avoid a crash.   The abrupt swerve of a poorly designed, top-heavy vehicle is a design trap waiting to ensnare the innocent.   And while SUVs are losing the luster as the vehicle of choice because of the high cost of gas, they will continue to be with us for years simply because on the huge numbers of vehicles purchased in the past.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must revise the current unsafe standard.  No driver should be taught to set mirrors to avoid a direct view at blind spots.  As for the government’s apparent disabilities, we can only call attention to them and hope they remedy the problem.  All they have to do is take off the blinders to see danger lurking in the blind spot.

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Richard Alexander