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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Driver Training: Managing Blind Spots

You may have experienced a situation where you started to change lanes or pass another vehicle only to see another vehicle alongside yours at the last instant. One report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that 18% of collisions are "sideswipe" collisions involving vehicles in the process of changing lanes and crashing into a vehicle that the driver did not see. Another tragic consequence of blind spots is the large number of deaths due to a driver backing over a person (usually a child) who was hidden in the large blind spot behind the vehicle. The web site Kids and Cars reports that an average of two children per week are killed in back-over incidents.

Blind spots exist in all vehicles. Cars with higher rear ends, small windows and large headrests all contribute to the problem. These blind spots can be reduced, but they can't be eliminated completely. As a driver, there are a few easy steps you can take to reduce blind spots.

Adjusting the mirrors - Before you start the car, put on your seat belt and adjust your seat so that you are high enough to see ahead and reach all of the driving controls. From this position, adjust your interior rearview mirror to provide a full view outside your rear window. Once the interior mirror is properly adjusted, set your outside rearview mirrors so that the interior edge of the mirror shows the same view as the extreme edge of your interior mirror. Don't make the mistake of turning your exterior mirrors so far inward that you can see the side of your car. That view will prevent you from seeing vehicles coming up alongside in an adjoining lane.

Look over your shoulder - Even with your mirrors properly adjusted, you will still have blind spots to the left and right rear of your vehicle. You don't have to turn your body around to look for vehicles in your blind spot; just turn your head so that your chin is in line with your shoulder to allow your peripheral vision to take in the view behind. Before you turn your head, make sure the road ahead is clear and that you can afford to move your eyes off of the road ahead for no more than a second or two. Learn more about managing blind spots and how to back up safely.

Motorcycles and bicycles have a very low profile, requiring that drivers be especially alert for them. Bicycles are a particular problem when making a right hand turn at an intersection. Before turning right, check your right side blind spot for bicycles that may be approaching.

Avoiding the blind spots of other vehicles – You may have seen signs on the backs of large trucks that say "If you can't see my mirrors, I can't see you." That is also true for cars. When you are positioned to the left or right rear of a car ahead, look to see if you can see the other car's inside rearview mirror. If the view of that mirror is blocked, the other driver cannot see you. It is never wise to travel for any length of time in another vehicle's blind spot. If you find yourself in this position, pull up ahead (without breaking the speed limit) or back off until you are clear of the blind spot.

Large trucks and buses have large blind spots to the rear and each side of the vehicle. The trucking industry refers to these blind spots as "No-Zones." If you drive in one of these no-zones, the trucker will be unaware of your presence and may hit you when changing lanes. A good rule of thumb to avoid a large vehicle's no-zones is not only to be able to see the other vehicle's rearview mirrors but to see the driver's face in his rearview mirror.

Backing up - Even small cars have an amazingly large blind spot directly to the rear. Consumer Reports has measured rear blind spots on a variety of vehicles since 2002. Medium sized SUVs and minivans have blind spots of up to 23 feet behind the vehicle and average sized sedans have rear blind spots of up to 17 feet. Before backing up, especially if your household includes small children, check the rear of the vehicle for hazards.

Manufacturers are creating new technological innovations to reduce blind spots:

Mirrors - There are extra wide concave mirrors available from auto parts suppliers that clip onto your current mirror and extend the interior view out to the sides by a significant amount.

Sonar - Some vehicles have sonar that warns a driver of objects behind when backing up, but they can be unreliable; snow, rain, and fog can affect their performance. Small objects or children that are not directly in the path of the sonar beam can also be missed.

Blind spot detection systems - These systems provide a warning tone and a visual warning by flashing a light in a side view mirror when a vehicle is detected in the blind spot. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) warns that these can be unreliable, because drivers do not always check their outside mirrors or tend to ignore them when they give continuous warnings in heavy rush hour traffic.

Rearview camera systems - This is a new and surprisingly cheap technology that gives a full view to the rear of the vehicle on a monitor attached to the dash or the interior rearview mirror. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) suggests this technology as one of the best available to avoid back-up collisions. These systems are readily available and can be easily installed on an existing vehicle.

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