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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ford Introduces Blind-Spot Tracking Mirror

New Mirror Shows Blind Spots in Upper Corner of Mirror

In 2009, Ford Motor Co. will try to eliminate blind spots when changing lanes on the highway. It will commence installing a side-view mirror on its vehicles that will show drivers the blind spots in the outside upper corners.

Although auto parts stores sell small mirrors that focus on blind spots, a Ford spokesman and several industry officials say they know of no other automaker that currently offers such a feature.

Jim Buczkowski, Ford's global director of electrical and electronic systems, said, "Those blind spots, changing lanes, we're always having some challenges seeing who's there."

To start, Ford will put the mirrors on a few Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models, and eventually make them standard across most of its lineup. Furthermore, Ford will offer an optional radar-based blind spot warning system not unlike those sold by other automakers, but as a driver backs out of a space, Ford's will be able to scan parking lot aisles and warn of oncoming vehicles.

Spokesman Alan Hall said that Ford conducted research on customer wants and needs. It is part of their campaign to be more customer focused, and these new additions come from that research. Hall said the new low-cost mirrors probably wouldn't add to the sticker price of a car or truck.

Of 450 people who participated in Ford driving clinics, Buczkowski said 76 percent thought the mirrors improved visibility.

Spokesman Wes Sherwood said that Ford had to figure out a way to meet a federal standard requiring driver's side mirrors to be flat. Tom Libby, senior director of industry analysis for the Power Information Network, a division of J.D. Power and Associates, has seen many drivers with small convex blind-spot mirrors affixed to their side mirrors. He said Ford is capitalizing on that consumer demand.

"It may seem like a trivial thing," he said. "It's obviously something in the direction of being customer-focused. I think that makes a lot of sense."

Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Irvine, Calif.-based Kelley Blue Book, the new feature is critical, as automakers create new, sleeker designs by shrinking the glass area on the side of vehicles.

Nerad said, "The blind spot issue, I think, gets to be more and more an issue every day." He added that some new crossover vehicles have small third-row side windows that make the blind spots even more difficult to see.

What’s more, Nerad said, is that vacationing families often pack their vehicles with so much luggage that it blocks the view out the rear window, forcing drivers to rely solely on side-view mirrors.

The federal government does not record crashes specifically caused by drivers who did not see other vehicles in their blind spots. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesman Eric Bolton said the closest it can come is a category called "failure to keep in proper lane or running off road." According to the NHTSA's Web site, those reasons were a factor for 16,470 drivers involved in fatal crashes during 2006.

In 2006, Michigan state police recorded 27,294 collisions between vehicles heading the same direction in different lanes, equaling about 9 percent of the total crashes in the state. Twelve people were killed and hundreds injured in those accidents, said Lt. Gary Megge.

Megge said he is confident the number of crashes would be reduced if all cars were equipped with the blind-spot mirrors.

"That tells me that potentially this could have an effect on nearly 9 percent of the traffic crashes in Michigan," he said. "People don't just change lanes when they know somebody's there. When these sideswipe same (direction) crashes occur, people don't see the other car."

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