NMA E-Newsletter #199: Like Father, Like Son

By John Bowman, NMA Communications Director

As a young driver, I occasionally borrowed my dad’s 1977 Pontiac Bonneville. Whenever I drove it I noticed that both side view mirrors were way out of whack. Knowing that my dad didn’t like it when I made changes to his settings (I always had to tune the radio back to his favorite station before returning the keys), I never touched them.

I finally asked him why he set his mirrors wrong, and he said it was safer that way. He explained that by angling the side view mirrors out slightly from the vehicle, he could see more of the adjacent lanes and reduce his blind spot. Use the rearview mirror to see what’s behind you; use the side view mirrors to see what’s coming up alongside you, he said. I’ve been doing it this way ever since.

Maximizing visibility on the road is even more important these days. Thanks to tougher and tougher crash test requirements, today’s vehicles contain more sheet metal and less glass, and that makes it harder to see what’s going on around you. (Learn more here.)

Most people adjust side view mirrors so that they can see the side of their car on the inside edge of the mirror. This limits visibility by creating “tunnel vision” to the rear. Set this way, your side view mirrors overlap much of what your rearview mirror sees and also creates blind spots.

The solution is to adjust the side view mirrors just beyond the point where you can see the side of the car on the inside edge of the mirror. This almost completely solves the blind spot problem. Here’s how to do it:

  • For the driver side mirror, roll up the window and press your head against the glass. Adjust the mirror so that you can just barely see the edge of the car.
  • For the passenger side mirror, place your head in the center of the car (directly behind the inside mirror mount) and adjust the outside mirror so that you can just barely see the edge of the car.

In normal driving position, you won’t be able to see the sides of the car, but you will be able to see other vehicles in the adjacent lanes. When an adjacent vehicle moves up beyond the range of both mirrors, it will likely be far enough forward to spot in your peripheral vision as you check the side view mirror.

With the right setup and a little practice, you’ll be able to visually track a vehicle as it moves from your rearview mirror, to your side view mirror and into your field of vision, all with minimal head turning. Mirrors set to “wide view” can also help with common highway maneuvers, such as merging, passing and watching for traffic entering the highway.

Properly adjusted mirrors are not a replacement for good driving habits. I still check over my shoulder when making any kind of lane change. You never know when a vehicle will angle across several lanes of traffic at high speeds and surprise you. But properly adjusted mirrors can greatly aid your situational awareness and give you an important heads-up.

So, this weekend, as you’re setting your clocks back and replacing your smoke alarm batteries, check to make sure your side view mirrors are adjusted properly. Show the other drivers in your household how to do it as well.


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