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.


Bob

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

Pablo Gomez

Come on Levitt, enough government bashing... This NEW mirror might be better than the flat mirrors, and regulation might slow down its adoption, but I am for sure glad that there are regulations, and that when I buy a car the manufacturer had to comply with a number of safety a performance requirements.

YX

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

Dave

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.

Clancy

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.

James Newman

It's more likely that a manufacturer lobbied for flat mirror language to head off a competitor. Regulations are tools for businesses as well.

Yaaki

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.

cjl55

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.

econobiker

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

KevinH

I agree that the regulation is silly, but I'd quibble with your last comment. Think of the number of hours Mr. Hicks spent thinking about preparing to solve this problem, and all of the hours of people who tried to solve this problem but failed. I bet it would take fewer man-hours to get the regulation changed if the right people were involved.

Instead I'd suggest that the problem is that those who would be the most efficient at getting this regulation changed have little incentive to do so.

Joh

Few problems not addressed by this:
Images are smaller, creating even further "objects are closer than they appear". Enough people can't judge distance with mirrors, let alone existing wide angle passenger mirrors resulting in people cutting off or merging into other drivers.

The smaller view presented makes identifying objects such as non standard sized cars, bikes (motor or other), etc relatively impossible with how people check mirrors. Head/shoulder checking primarily provides a better angle to identify a hazard for what it is.

Blind spots are not only literal, but mental. See studies on how people can look at something but still not see it.

Allen

"It seems strange to me that the U.S. government is in the business of telling auto makers what shape their mirrors should be. "

Mr. Levitt, the U.S. government is in the business of telling everybody everything. When you can't choose your doctor, do you really care about your mirror?

csdx

I think this new mirror is actually over engineering the solution. The small button mirror add ons I think are the better solution. Sure it's small and distorts the view, but the question isn't how to present a big, accurate field of view to the driver, but to answer the specific question "is there something in my blind spot?". You don't need to answer that with a fine ganularity, just a simple yes/no is all that's needed. This allows you both to answer the blind spot question, and get an accurate distance from the flat part of your mirror when it is in view.

Bernie

The curved mirror concept was introduced in Europe and has done remarkably well over there. However, Ford bypassed the flat mirror regulation by embedding a second mirror that handles the blind spot. It's now standard on all new Ford automobiles.

The government regulation should be changed but, in order to maintain safety, wouldn't it be necessary to regulate the curvature of mirrors anyway? Our maximum field of vision changes in relation to speed of our overall movement (it narrows as we move faster). The curved mirror creates more variables that would have to be tracked and understood by the driver before it can be properly utilized. Also, to what degree can these curves be made before problematically distorting depth perception?

Bill

Here's how to reduce blind spots with flat mirrors -

http://www.cartalk.com/content/avoiding-blind-spot-6

uthor

"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."

Sounds exactly like the aftermarket mirror that I put on my VW 5 years ago. Actually, it's not even aftermarket; it's an OEM mirror that is used by VW in their European cars and I just imported and installed on my car. Glad this guy came up with something "new".

James

The real blind spot is the requirement for mirrors of any shape, when a video camera and display can provide better visibility, reduce aerodynamic drag, and through the use of simple image processing, eliminate blinding nighttime glare from the multitude of drivers who've never gotten the hang of dimming their lights when following another car.

mike

The problem is not the mirror, it is how people align their mirrors. The side view mirror should be used for checking the side of the car, not behind it. Most people use it for the latter. Angle your mirrors outward more and it covers the blind spot. Use your inside center mirror to see behind you.

Also, as someone mentioned, I am sure the regulation was designed so that size and distance were not distorted on that side mirror. You can either have fidelity of size and distance, or a wide view, but you can't have both.

William Nuesslein

The purpose of regulation is not the protection of the public. That is done through good science and engineering. It is to protect industry. Flying is a large industry that could get off the ground only if people had confidence in the flying machines. That is what the FAA does. Proper regulation should curb law suits. The FDA fails in this reguard to our detrement.

Mr. LaHood is a disaster. Look at the foolish Toyota investigation.