Drivers Aren’t the Only People With Blind Spots

(Photo: Joshua Ludwig)

Math professor R. Andrew Hicks has come up with an amazing new rear-view mirror for the driver’s side of the car that eliminates blind spots. The secret is that standard mirrors are flat, but this one has subtle curves that greatly widens the field of view, but without being distorting. If you look at the photo accompanying the link above, it is amazing how much better the new mirror seems to be.

Alas, you won’t see Hicks’s mirror on many cars any time soon. U.S. regulations require that driver’s side mirrors be flat, and this mirror is not flat. So if you want one, you will have to buy it and install it on the car yourself.

It seems strange to me that the U.S. government is in the business of telling auto makers what shape their mirrors should be. Doesn’t that seem like something that markets can take care of just fine on their own? I can’t think of many good reasons why car makers would opt for a curved mirror if flat mirrors perform better. What is the government trying to protect against? Instead, by having such specific regulations, it will probably be years – if ever – before this great new invention becomes widely available.

My guess it is that is much easier to solve the problem of a driver’s blind spot than to fix this regulatory blind spot.

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  1. Bob says:

    Maybe first on trucks? Huge blind spots, can’t look over your shoulder.

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  2. Pablo Gomez says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Jangla says:

      You know how I reassure myself that my mirrors provide me with a safe view of behind me when I buy a new vehicle here in the EU? I get in the car and *look in the mirror*. I don’t rely on any wasteful, overworked, underpaid governmental employee to take care of my personal safety for me.

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  3. YX says:

    Regulation is not about what’s best, it’s about what’s most beneficial. Sometime they align, sometime not as well.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 16
    • Chuck says:

      Speaking very unofficially from the position of a regulator, regulations are neither about what is best nor what is most beneficial. Regulations are about what is enforceable. There are good intentions behind the start of almost every regulation, but by the time a regulation is in place, its real-world effect rarely has anything to do with any well-intentioned original purpose.

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  4. Dave says:

    Passenger side mirrors are curved just like that but also contain the warning, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

    The same holds true in the picture on the linked page. The flat mirror shows things as they are (distance-wise) while in the wide-view mirror, objects seem farther away.

    I think the issue is safety and drivers attempting to merge because they think a car is farther back than it is. On the passenger-side, this is less of an issue because you can more clearly see if there is room by looking over your shoulder. To get the same view on the driver’s side would take a higher-degree turn of the head.

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    • Clancy says:

      The only way to increase field of view is to reduce the magnification. “Longitudinal Magnification” (i.e. how much closer or farther things seem) varies as the square of the magnification. The aspheric mirror eliminates the distortion, but it does not change the longitudinal magnification. In other words: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE (MUCH) CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. The only mirror that allows you to accurately judge distances is a flat mirror. That is why they are mandated.
      Maybe it is the knee-jerk free-marketeers who have a blind spot.

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      • Duncan says:

        I can’t agree at all that only flat mirrors can be used to judge distance. My first thought when I saw the picture was ‘that looks exactly like the mirrors on my car’, and lo and behold, my (UK) 2006 Honda Civic has curved mirrors.

        I’ve been judging distance in them for years, it did occur to me when I bought it that everything looked smaller, but not that they were curved. I’ve taken a look again and you’re right, things look further away than they do in the flat rear-view mirror, but judging distance in car-lengths is easy with a frame of reference (eg the side of your own car, which is impossible to not have in frame because of the wide angle).

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    • Bill McGonigle says:

      “the issue is safety and drivers attempting to merge because they think a car is farther back than it is”

      Yes, it is _an_ issue. What’s more common/dangerous – drivers misjudging distance because of convex mirrors, or drivers hitting other vehicles in their blindspots?

      I’m pretty sure there’s no training that can overcome a blindspot (assuming the mirror must be used vs. head-turning). Can people be trained to properly judge the distance using a convex mirror?

      Could an electronic mirror be made that images the scene, segments the traffic image, and reassembles the image with morphed objects to accurately reflect the distances and eliminate the blindspot? I can’t see why such a safety-enhanced image wouldn’t be superior to a real image for the task at hand.

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      • h says:

        To be honest, I think that this whole “people are not smart enough to adapt” approach is sad. The fact that I, and millions of other drivers in the EU drive around with curved mirrors.

        I believe that the whole idea of having to protect drivers from curved mirrors is fundamentally misguided; it is better to see things slightly different than not seeing them at all.

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  5. James Newman says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  6. Yaaki says:

    Because the government has a compelling interest in making sure drivers know how far behind their car other cars are? If you look at the pictures, it’s clear that it does not *distort* the image, but it does make other cars appear *much further away*. I would wager the government sees this sort of standardization as a safety issue, and having a different standard for every car manufacturer would create more hazards to drivers, rather than fewer. Like the article impies, this isn’t really new technology, so much as an improvement on the technology already available on passenger side mirrors.

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  7. cjl55 says:

    I highly doubt that driver side mirrors are flat for no good reason. I’m sure the legislation exists because it was deemed better for things to appear at the correct distance rather than have the widest field of view. Having a required standard seems reasonable.

    Of course, the perfect option seems to be the hybrid type (i.e. a small curved mirror – like that on the new Ford Focus) in addition to a flat. Best of both worlds.

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    • Jeff says:

      The small mirror takes some adjusting to get used to but it’s extremely helpful. When I first started driving the Focus, it was annoying that part of the mirror was covered to make space for the small curved one but it made up for that by having a pretty large mirror. After a couple weeks, the first thing I notice when driving any other car is that it doesn’t have the mirror. And now, I don’t think I could buy a car that doesn’t have it.

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  8. econobiker says:

    Problem is that most drivers do not know how to aim their vehicles’ mirrors and look at the side of the car/truck.

    You should aim to have the following vehicle leave the middle interior rear view mirror and appear the side mirror.

    Click and Clack are supposed to have a good adjust instruction here:
    http://www.cartalk.com/content/avoiding-blind-spot-5

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