Today’s vehicles are equipped with lots of technology to help keep drivers safe. That includes backup cameras, side-view video feeds and lane-assist alerts.
But all that technological support can mean that some drivers rely too heavily on technology instead of their own observations. Those bad habits can create potentially dangerous situations, including blind spots — the area of the road outside a driver’s field of vision.
Blind spots cover close to half of the space around your vehicle, according to National Highway Safety Administration statistics. Too often, when drivers pull out of a parking spot or change lanes, they don’t see oncoming vehicles or pedestrians in their path because of a blind spot. This can result in a collision or serious injury.
You may have stopped turning your head to look behind you when you put your car in reverse, assuming the rearview camera provides an adequate portrait. Or perhaps, before switching lanes, you wait to hear the beep from your car’s lane-assist feature instead of peeking over your left shoulder. If so, it’s time to relearn the basics. Here’s how and why to adjust and check your car mirrors before hitting the road.
Position mirrors properly
Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) provide an additional layer of safety when you’re behind the wheel, but your mirrors should always be your first and last line of defense, says Lynn Fuchs, founder and president of A Woman’s Way Driving School, based in Valley Stream and Glens Falls, New York.
“There could be a mechanical glitch with the technology, and it could fail, so you always want to use your own eyes to know how to safely navigate changing your road position,” Fuchs says.
That means consistently using all three mirrors — the inside rearview, outside driver-side and passenger-side mirrors — while you’re driving.
“The idea is to create a seamless visual view around as much of your vehicle as possible, especially to the rear, where it’s harder to see,” says William Van Tassel, manager of driver training programs for the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) national office.
Believe it or not, some drivers point their side mirrors inward — so they see only their own cars — instead of rotating them outward, he notes.
“We teach what’s commonly called the Blindzone Glare Elimination Technique of setting your mirrors — canting the side mirrors outward 15 degrees or so. The benefit is you have a wider view all around the car behind you,” he says.
To properly set your driver-side mirror, sit behind the wheel and touch your head to the driver’s window. Look at your mirror and adjust it outward until you can see the lane next to you with just a small portion of the back end of your car as a reference point, advises Fuchs. For the passenger-side mirror, lean to the right until your head is above your car’s center console, then look into your right-side mirror and adjust it until you can see part of your vehicle.
“Center your rearview mirror so you’re not looking into the backseat, at your face or up at the ceiling — you’re centering it through the back window,” she says.
For enhanced visibility, you can purchase a wide-angle mirror that clips onto your existing rearview one, says Fuchs.
Get familiar with unfamiliar vehicles
Whether you’re renting a car or borrowing a friend’s, AAA recommends getting to know the vehicle, because the blind spots will be different. Before heading out, have someone walk around the car while you’re in the driver’s seat. Watching them will give you an idea of what you can and can’t see.
“This bit of practice helps you get used to it before driving it among other road users,” Van Tassel says.
If you share a car with others in your household, double-check your settings before you drive, notes Fuchs.
“Always recheck your mirrors, because they might need to be readjusted because of your different sizes and heights,” she explains.
Even if all your mirrors are perfectly positioned, you’ll never be able to see everything if you don’t physically turn your head and body to look directly into the space you want to move into, warns Van Tassel.
“Mirrors are great, but they don’t give you the same width and breadth of view as looking into an area. The direct line of sight is the best,” he says. “Trust and verify: Trust your eyes by looking directly into your intended path but use the mirrors and rearview cameras to verify that.”
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You can’t eliminate every blind spot
It’s also a good idea to clean your side mirrors and rear camera with a microfiber cloth when filling up with gas, Van Tassel says. Even one drop of water on your camera can obstruct your visibility. To further protect your mirrors, fold them in when you park so another vehicle doesn’t accidentally damage them.
“It would be wonderful if your rear camera keeps circulating around your car, but it doesn’t. There’s always going to be a blind spot somewhere,” Fuchs says. “You can make your decisions in your mirror — especially when you have a wide-angle mirror — but you must twist yourself to look over your shoulder out the back portion of your window in that last half a second, and a lot of people don’t.”
Because people may lose flexibility as they age, Fuchs suggests practicing that twisting movement at home.
“You can do exercises while sitting in a chair to stretch those muscles to be able to turn and look behind you,” she explains. “You can help loosen those muscles up so you can get that view when you need it. In the car, that last-second check should always be over your shoulder.”
Wendy Helfenbaum is a contributing writer who covers home improvement, gardening, automotive, real estate and travel. She’s written for outlets including Apartment Therapy, Houzz, BBC.com, WomansDay.com and Costco Connection.