NHTSA Gives Very Poor Advice on Safe Steering for Drivers

On 4 October, 2017, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a link on Facebook, leading back to a California DMV web page on the subject of supposedly safe steering, which was based on guidelines from NHTSA itself.

Sadly, however, it is fairly clear that America has never had a systemic hierarchy in relation to good, safe driving methodology… something that the nation’s grossly-inadequate and often even inappropriate standard of driving tests illustrates all too well.  Even American law enforcement departments — limited almost entirely to private-track “dynamics” driver training — have too few skills and too little knowledge for safe driving when, in fact, they should be setting the highest-possible example for the task.

Photograph of Eddie Wren using the correct "ten-to-two" position for his hands on the steering wheel, and with thumbs on the wheel's rim.
Eddie Wren, chief instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America, using the safest steering technique — “10 & 2” — with thumbs on the wheel rim. (Copyright image.)

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Deer Involvement in Animal-Strike Collisions on U.S. Roads and Highways

Over the past twelve years, Advanced Drivers of North America has had the privilege of working in rural areas in most American states, training into the thousands of drivers at various agricultural and agro-chemical corporations — people who typically have been born and raised in such areas and who are very conversant indeed with country living and with nature.

Photo of a small deer lying dead beside an interstate highway.
Even a relatively small individual like this white-tail is far from funny to hit at high speed in a sedan. Especially at night, the shock to the driver can be enough to trigger a much more serious outcome than the unfortunate deer alone created. Copyright image.

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Passengers Putting Their Feet on the Dash then Being Injured or Killed by the Airbags

This is something that many people have neither heard of nor even thought about.  When the front airbags are triggered, which can  happen because of a mere bump to the vehicle at speeds as low as 12mph, those airbags emerge and inflate at between 165 and 200mph.  They are most certainly not nice fluffy cushions, and if you have one or both of your feet up on the dashboard at the time, the results will be serious and can even kill you.

Photo of a young woman riding as a passenger with her feet up on the vehicle's dash but even a 12mph bump can trigger the airbags and if they go off, you WILL be badly hurt.
Many people ride as passengers with their feet up on the vehicle’s dash.  Do you?  Sadly, it’s a very common sight on America’s highways, but even just a 12mph bump to the front of your vehicle can trigger the airbags and if they go off,  you WILL be badly hurt or killed.  Copyright image.

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An Insight into the Vital Subject of Good Observations when Driving

The latest “THINK!” advert gives a small but important insight into the proper use of observations when driving.

Far too many drivers simply gaze ahead of their vehicle while driving  without actually noticing everything they should and being alert to all the things that potentially could go wrong.  Worse than that, many drivers literally do just gaze at the back of the vehicle they are following, reliant on the brake lights of that lead vehicle to trigger a response in themselves.  But either way, drivers who do these things are throwing away a lot of safety.

Photograph of an urban road with multiple dangers such as pedestrians, cyclists, static cars with their doors open, etc.
The speed limit sign is not the only thing that needs to be seen when you are driving! This image is from the “THINK!” campaign in Britain but applies in every country.

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What To Do if Your Brakes Fail – Parking Brake Use is Risky!

I’ve been triggered into writing this by an old post on the same topic that I’ve just seen and replied to, on the Allstate Safe Driving Blog.

By no means are all “safe driving” writers always accurate enough!

With no disrespect to Allstate or the writer of the piece, it was clearly written by someone with only a reasonable knowledge of the issue himself, despite having referenced various sources.  I say this because there were a couple of inclusions which are very questionable.

The first of these was about using the “emergency brake” — a highly inappropriate name for the parking brake — to help stop the vehicle, and my response to that point is shown in my reply to Allstate, below.  Having said that, a handbrake is a dramatically safer option that a foot-operated parking brake because, with the button held in, it can be applied much more accurately and released instantaneously without extra risk.

Photo: Some foot-operated parking brakes such as this one lock in the on position when pressed and have to be pressed a second time, and harder, to release them. (Photograph: Nissan)
Some foot-operated parking brakes such as this one (left) lock in the ‘on’ position when pressed and have to be pressed a second time, and harder, to release them. (Photograph: Nissan)

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Be Safe by the Roads or if Driving During the Solar Eclipse

Important safety advice from the FHWA.  The solar eclipse is on August 21.  Visit their website for more information: https://lnkd.in/dv36xic

Photo: A warning about carelessness during the eclipse, from the FHWA
A warning about carelessness during the eclipse, from the FHWA
ADoNA Comments

If you are driving at the time of the eclipse, then apart from not parking at an unwise location to watch the event yourself, please do be careful not to hit anyone that does stop at a bad place.  Naturally, headlights — not just Daytime Running Lights, because typically they don’t activate your rear lights — should be used throughout the periods of half-light as well as the true darkness.











A 10-second Video Clip that Contains Many Important Lessons in Safe Driving

The video clip on this page is now several years old but for our purposes that doesn’t matter at all.  It was taken by a red light camera and if I remember correctly it is from Ohio.  It is noteworthy, though, because it highlights several important points about road & traffic safety, and surprisingly, one the most important of these is how to steer in the safest way possible — a strange claim given that viewers can’t even see the drivers, but all will be revealed! 🙂

Let’s deal with the various topics in the order they occur in the video:

Stop AT the ‘Stop Line’, Not After It

Right from the start of the video clip, the station wagon / estate car that is in the picture is static, presumably at either a red turn arrow or at a complete red light (the status of the lights cannot be seen).  Either way, however, look precisely where it has stopped:  3-4 feet beyond the ‘stop line’.  This really isn’t good for safety reasons, which is why it’s also illegal!

Stopping after the line commonly causes four types of unacceptable  problem:

  1. The car’s position can cause problems for vehicles coming from the right that are making a left turn into the road where the static vehicle is standing.  It is a nuisance to all drivers making the turn but can be a real problem for the drivers of long vehicles such as semi-tractor-trailers or buses.  And that’s why road engineers locate ‘stop lines’ set back from the ‘mouth’ of the intersection.
  2. A vehicle that stops after the stop line in a left-turn lane, especially if it’s a big vehicle, blocks the view for drivers waiting at the same stop line who wish to go straight ahead when the light changes to green.  It stops them from seeing either first-responders’ vehicles or vehicles that illegally are still coming from the left, even though the lights have changed, just like the Chrysler PT Cruiser in this video does to the SUV that gets hit.  Some drivers don’t even bother checking left and right before setting off when a light goes green but we all should because green light or no green light, it’s dangerous not to! Over 8,000 — yes, eight thousand — Americans are killed each year in the USA alone in collisions where a driver doesn’t stop at a red light or stop sign, or doesn’t yield at a yield sign.  That’s over 20 people killed, on average, from just this one cause every single day, so always look before setting off and now that you know this, please don’t block other people’s view by stopping after the stop line, in any lane!
  3. Worst of all, think now about a vehicle that has gone beyond the ‘stop line’ before stopping, and is blocking other drivers’ views, as in the previous point.  But this time imagine that when the straight-ahead lights turn green OR a vehicle in the right-hand lane does a right-turn-on-red illegally by not stopping,  there are pedestrians crossing the crosswalk from the left-hand side.  Now, somebody is pinned underneath a vehicle, either dead or crippled, and it’s all because an unthinking driver stopped after the ‘stop line’ and blocked other drivers’ views!  Please don’t do it — as in really don’t — and that includes all the police officers I’ve seen do it who should be setting a vastly better example (and should also be giving citations to those drivers who stop after the stop line)!
  4. Last but not least, when they stop significantly beyond the ‘stop line’, many drivers actually block the marked or unmarked crosswalks that exist at virtually every intersection that has traffic lights/signals.  How safe or  intelligent is that?
Cars Coming the Other Way Are Stopping In Time

It is easy to see in the video clip that vehicles coming towards the camera have responded correctly by slowing down and stopping for what is clearly a red traffic light.  Assuming that, as is often the case, the lights in both directions (other than turn arrows) went red at the same time, the PT Cruiser that enters the scene from the bottom of the image would appear to have had plenty of time to stop.  However, as mentioned above, that is an assumption.

Running Red Lights

The horrifying statistics about how many people are killed in the USA each year by drivers who fail to stop at red lights or stop signs, or fail to yield where they should have done so, are shown above.  Remember that on average it is over 20 people every single day.

What can we Learn from this About the Safest Way to Steer?

Stopping a car in an emergency involves reaction time — which is inescapably linked to the distance travelled in that time — and naturally it also involves the time and distance it takes to physically stop the vehicle, by means of the brakes…. the braking distance.

This is relevant to steering in a way that most people never think about.  Part of the time taken to react before braking in an emergency involves taking your foot off the gas pedal, transferring it to the brake pedal, and applying pressure. But — this is where it gets relevant — unless the driver is incompetent and is driving with just one or maybe even no hands on the wheel (it happens) when a crisis occurs, the driver already has both hands on the steering wheel.  This means that no time is lost getting the hands into position before proper steering can commence, and this, in turn, means that it in a frightening situation a driver is both likely and able to start swerving away from the crisis scenario before he can start to brake.

Let’s go back now to the video and play it again… a few times!  What I’m asking you to do is start the video rolling then as soon as the PT Cruiser comes into view from the bottom of the screen, start click ‘pause’, then start clicking ‘play, pause’, ‘play’, ‘pause’,  with the shortest gaps you can manage between play and pause, each time, so that the video goes forward in the briefest possible increments.  What you will see is that before the PT Cruiser hits the SUV, which comes from the right-hand side of the screen, the driver of the PT Cruiser starts to steer to the left.  Indeed, if you are quick enough with that ‘play-pause’ routine, you will find that the driver’s door mirror on the PT Cruiser is visible before the SUV even appears on the screen at all — something that could only happen if the Cruiser was turning to the left.  You will probably need to repeat this exercise by replaying the video at least one more time because now I would like you to watch and see when the brake lights of the PT Cruiser come on.  The answer is that they illuminate after the driver has started steering/swerving to the left — a confirmation of the point I made in the previous paragraph about drivers starting to steer or swerve before they can start to brake.

So why is this relevant?  Simple:

“If we teach drivers to hold the wheel at ‘8 & 4’ so that (quote) ‘when the airbag goes off, your face, hands and arms will be less badly hurt,’ it is actually a nonsense if the first thing a person is likely to do — as indeed they are — is try to swerve away from the danger.  Where on the wheel will their hands be if a driver is swerving?  It is infinitely preferable to teach young drivers to hold the wheel more effectively, at ’10 & 2′, NOT ‘8 & 4’, to help them maintain best control and thereby avoid bad situations altogether.  Then teach them to use a steering method which prevents their arms ever being across the middle of the steering wheel — the method is called ‘pull-push’ and needs to be taught properly, not by someone who simply doesn’t know what they are talking about! This is one good thing we can do to make young drivers safer.”  Eddie Wren, Advanced Drivers of North America, 2010.

SUVs & Pick-Up Trucks are Still More Likely to Roll Over!

The number of rollover crashes in America certainly has decreased since the mandatory installation of Electronic Stability Control [ESC] on all new vehicles since 2012.  However, this doesn’t alter the fact that SUVs and pick-up trucks have a higher center of gravity than do sedans, station wagons or even minivans, and under some circumstances they are still much more likely to roll over.  One of these situations is as shown in the above video, when an SUV or pick-up is T-boned by a lower vehicle and gets rolled as a result.  And there is certainly nothing that ESC can do about that.  If you drive a pick-up or SUV, do be aware that you are still more likely to roll and that rollovers are immensely dangerous.

The Pedestrian Should Not Have Been Crossing!

Viewers who have paid attention to the pedestrian before the collisions happened will have realized that he could not have been crossing the street legally.  Clearly, if green lights had allowed the SUV to proceed, the pedestrian lights would have been showing a red man or “Don’t Walk.”  This does not, of course, give anyone the right to harm the pedestrian and yet some drivers’ attitudes towards Vulnerable Road Users [VRUs] is truly despicable.  Let me put this another way:  Let any driver who has never crossed the road as a pedestrian when a Don’t Walk signal was showing but no vehicles seemed to be coming “cast the first stone!”

The Pedestrian Survived, but Not for the Reason Some Claim!

The fact that the pedestrian survived being hit by a rolling SUV is astonishing, but what was just as incredible — as is the case with so many road crashes — was the wild speculation that followed.  Very quickly after this video was first posted, someone came up with the notion that it was the collision dent (made by the PT Cruiser hitting the SUV) that happened to land directly over the pedestrian and that it then acted like a little cave over the top of him.  Even National Geographic, in a television  documentary series about crashes repeated this fallacy and yet one only has to watch the video closely to see that it is simply not the case.

Use the pause & play buttons quickly and repeatedly as the SUV gets close to the pedestrian and you will see that it is, in fact, the underside of the vehicle that hits the pedestrian and knocks him over.  The vehicle then lands on its wheels, over the top of the man, so even though the suspension will momentarily crush down to its lowest possible contraction, it was the gap underneath the floor of the car that left enough space for the pedestrian not to be crushed to death.

It is wild speculation such as this allegation about the dent left by the first collision that fuels wild rumors and legends about road safety, and this makes getting people to believe genuine facts so much more difficult.

During my traffic patrol police career I tended to socialize with my non-police friends more so that I did with fellow officers and on occasions it was incredibly amusing to have a friend tell me the craziest stories about crashes I had actually attended and investigated (perhaps even that same day).  Some of the exaggerated and inevitably third-party tales I was told were completely unrecognizable when compared to the actual facts of the crashes in question.  (The stories always started with something like: “A mate of mine told me that….”)

Sadly, such myths and rumors create ludicrous but harmful beliefs which can make subsequent road safety campaigns less effective.

I hope this ‘breakdown’ of just one crash scene has given you a little insight into how complex and frankly fascinating crash investigations can be (and believe me, my comments above represent only the very tip of the proverbial iceberg).

Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief Instructor — Advanced Drivers of North America


Please note that all of the text on this page is subject to our Disclaimer and Copyright (as is every relevant item on this website) but clearly in this case the video is not.

It’s “Mirror-Signal,” NOT “Signal-Mirror,” Despite Bad Advice for 100 Years!

Have you ever seen a vehicle ahead of you veer sideways because another vehicle started a lane-change or a turn after giving a signal far too late or no signal at all?

Yes, of course.  Many of us throughout the U.S. see such incidents every day.

Because of this situation, all motorcyclists and many car drivers are very leery, for good reason, when a signal suddenly starts flashing on a nearby vehicle.  They know all too well that the driver may start his lane-change (or a turn) immediately, and bikers in particular may veer away immediately to protect themselves from this danger, but doing so can then endanger the biker!  Part of the reason this situation happens so often is that Americans have been taught a crucial driving technique incorrectly…… To put it bluntly, American drivers have been taught yet another example of dangerous garbage!  (No, we are not trying to be offensive by using comments like that; we are trying to protect American citizens better!)

Research paper: State Drivers’ Manuals Can Kill Your Kids!

All American drivers have invariably been taught to signal then check the mirror, but as the above paragraphs show, this method can, and frequently does, cause at least anger and in many cases danger — whether from collisions or road rage.

If you used “signal — mirror” technique in most other countries you would never even be able to pass the relevant driving test because it is such an inconsiderate and risky practice!

A dramatically safer and more thoughtful method is this:

.                  Yes, okay…. Maneuver! {:-)
  1. MIRROR first!  Check that it is safe to actually give a signal (i.e. without scaring the bejeezus out of a driver or motorcyclist who is coming up alongside your vehicle, or even a bicyclist on your right if traffic is moving slowly!).  This means that the mirror check needs to be done in plenty of time — and more than once, if necessary.
  2. SIGNAL at a suitable distance before the turn or lane-change you wish to make.  This distance varies in relation to your speed so if anyone ever tries to tell you to use a physical distance, such as 100 feet, just ignore them (and anyway, do you think that you could accurately point out 100 feet every time?  Not many people can, at all).  You must not signal for a turn so early that it could cause confusion about you turning into another intersection (etc.) earlier than the one you want.  Wherever possible, your signal should flash at least 4-6 times before a turn and definitely at least that many times before you start to make a lane-change!  If you are worried about others not letting you in, don’t be — someone eventually will, and all you need do to stop this being a problem is to make lane changes in plenty of time so that a few inconsiderate drivers can’t be a serious problem to you; just let them go by.

The full sequence of actions to stay safe when handling any change of direction (at an intersection or obstruction) or a lane-change is based on “Mirror, Signal, Maneuver” (meaning the turn, lane-change, etc.).  There is a second part to this sequence, which breaks down that word “maneuver” into its component actions, but that will follow later in a separate blog post.


This post is subject to ADoNA’s  Disclaimer and Copyright

The Golden Rule of Safe Driving!

All sorts of ‘rules’ or ‘guidelines’ are important in safe driving but, a few years ago, a panel of British Police Advanced Driving Instructors was asked to decide on which one was the most crucial.

To put things in perspective, British police advanced drivers and advanced motorcyclists are by far the most highly-trained individuals in the world relative to safe driving/riding on public roads, with just one exception — the instructors who train them!  Qualifying at the advanced level in both disciplines of driving and motorcycle riding takes a minimum of ten weeks (400 hours) of behind-the-wheel training, at very high speeds among regular traffic on public roads, not a private circuit.  And this is done in unmarked vehicles without any flashing lights or sirens.  That duration of training is far more than it takes to obtain a private pilot’s license.  Qualifying as an advanced police instructor then takes several more full weeks of training and many more weeks as a continuously supervised instructor, to ensure the task is being done with absolute accuracy.

So what is this ‘Golden Rule’?

Interestingly, the panel of advanced instructors said that this concept of a golden rule had to have an explanatory introduction and that was that the most fundamental thing is to stay on the correct side of the road — for example, on the left in Britain or Australia, and on the right in the USA or France.  It sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  And of course it is, but in many countries that people visit on vacation or on business, there are road deaths every year because a visitor made a mistake and drove on the wrong side.  Once this was made clear, the panel was able to focus on a key rule that would apply to and be helpful to all drivers, anywhere in the world, and it is this:

“Never drive so fast that you cannot stop:

  1. safely,

  2. on your own side of the road,

  3. within the distance you can see to be clear.”™

(Copyright, 2006, in North America; Advanced Drivers of [North] America)

There is much more to this powerful safety advice than meets the eye.  For example, “the distance you can see to be clear” emphatically does not mean “the distance you can clearly see!”  Similarly, the “safely” aspect is inextricably linked to a full and correct understanding of safe following distances.

Naturally, this is one of the many topics explained in great detail on all Advanced Drivers of North America, Inc., training courses.

Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief InstructorAdvanced Drivers of North America

Setting a Driver’s Mirrors for Maximum Safety

A Poor Reflection on Fashion

Setting Outside Mirrors to the Correct Angle

By Eddie Wren — Copyright © 2003 and 2017 (revised version)

Fashion plays a big part in modern life but it is highly doubtful whether road safety trends should ever be subject to it. Yet for years there has been a buzz going around regarding the settings for exterior mirrors. The method now being recommended is potentially risky and frankly has no benefits other than the promotion of laziness and the de-emphasis of reasonable care by drivers. No matter how well-intended, this technique should never be sanctioned.

This new but inappropriate method is incessantly promoted in the USA but would apply equally in any country with left-hand-drive vehicles, and is reversed for countries with right-hand-drive vehicles.

Let’s consider the rationale behind the new advice (illustration: ‘Car Two,’ below). It states, for the USA, that when setting the left-hand exterior mirror, a driver should place his/her head against the glass of the driver’s door window then align the exterior mirror to show just a thin sliver of the car bodywork. Traditional advice, however, states that the mirror adjustment should be made while seated normally for driving, not with one’s head against the glass.

Similarly, proponents of the new method say that the driver should lean to the right, until their head is central, across the width of the car, before setting the right-hand exterior mirror — again to show just the very edge of the car bodywork. Once again, the traditionalists state that this adjustment should be made while the driver is sat normally in the correct position for driving.

Those who recommend the new idea of ‘wider’ settings for the wing/exterior mirrors claim that the method reduces the need for a driver to glance over either shoulder and that it also gives a better view through the relevant exterior mirror, of cars that are alongside one’s own vehicles on a multi-lane highway. They also claim that it reduces unnecessary overlap between the views through interior and exterior mirrors (see the striped, green zones in illustration ‘Car One,’ below).


.               Car One                                                        Car Two

Car One: The ‘traditional’ way of setting the exterior mirrors. Note the lack of red-striped blind spots inside (i.e. below) the thick red lines. The green-striped areas denote overlap of the view from the interior and exterior mirrors. 

These settings prevent any other vehicles, including motorcycles, from coming up behind, unseen.

Car Two: Setting the exterior mirrors ‘wide’. Note the large, red-striped blind spots inside (i.e. below) the thick red lines, andthe large areas of green above those same lines.

Depending on how wide a driver sets his exterior mirrors, this technique creates large, un-viewable blind spots that can hide other vehicles, all so that the driver concerned doesn’t feel obliged to do shoulder checks.

The areas above the thick red lines denote zones which a driver may view simply by turning his/her head when appropriate. These diagrams are not to scale but do not need to be.  The principle remains the same.  They were created using nothing more complex than the ‘MS Paint’ computer program — but they still clearly show that setting the mirrors ‘wide’ can create two large, dangerous, rear blind spots which can not easily or safely be viewed, and that if a driver ever does turn his/her head — an action that this inadvisable technique seeks to reduce — it creates even more unnecessary overlap than do the traditional settings.
Illustrations Copyright © Eddie Wren, and ‘Drive and Stay Alive, Inc.’, 2003.

The question is, does this new ‘wide settings’ method actually do anything at all to enhance safety?   The answer is a resounding ‘No!’ And under several circumstances it will have exactly the opposite effect.

Before detailing why this is such a bad method, it is important to take account of those people who, through neck injury, ailment or whatever, have genuine difficulty in turning their head to glance over their shoulder. If this is the case then one of three things can be done to make life easier and to ensure that the relevant blind spots can still be checked:
— Having (as always) made sure that one has a safe following distance from the vehicle ahead, the first option is to briefly rock forward, towards the steering wheel, as one looks into the relevant mirror. This gives exactly the same ‘wide’ view as does setting the mirror in that position in the first place, and it avoids the driver having to turn to look over their shoulder. Nobody is advocating that a driver sits too close or remains too close to the steering wheel when driving but, as long as it is safe to do so at the relevant moment, briefly leaning forwards will not cause problems.
— The second option is to have an additional wing mirror fitted on both sides of the car so that one on each side can be set in the proper, ‘traditional’ manner and the other can be set appropriately wide (the same concept as the pairs of mirrors in one housing used on each side of larger pick-up trucks).
— And the third possibility is to buy small, convex self-adhesive mirrors that can be stuck on to the bottom outer corner of each exterior mirror. These give only a small image for the driver to see but will show whether there is, in fact, another vehicle partially alongside.

Despite there actually being not one good reason to set the exterior mirrors ‘wide’, there are at least eight reasons why you should NOT position them like that, as follows:

1. On the question of overlap between interior and exterior mirrors, it is a sad fact of life that most drivers — assuming they use their mirrors at all — only check one mirror when they should be checking at least two. In this case, the question of overlap becomes a moot point and is quite possibly advantageous.

2. A good (meaning ‘attentive’) driver will always monitor all of the vehicles coming up behind at all times and, through concentration on the task at hand, will always know what vehicles may be alongside, in the relevant blind spots. In these circumstances, a shoulder check becomes necessary only to confirm the other vehicle’s exact location or, for example, whether it left the highway at an interchange one has just passed.

3. If exterior mirrors are set ‘wide’ then on highways there is a risk that a motorcycle could be hidden from sight in the relevant blind spots and as a result the rider(s) could be killed if a driver starts a turn or a lane change as the bike is coming up alongside, close to the vehicle.  Even without a collision, it is a guarantee that the motorcycle rider will be frightened and/or angry. On urban roads with slow-moving traffic there is a similar danger in respect of bicyclists coming past, usually on the right-hand side of one’s vehicle, especially if near an intersection or driveway where the motor vehicle driver is about to turn right and leaves the signaling too late.

4. In all except two-seat sports cars and two-seat pick-up trucks, the view through the interior mirror will often be partially blocked by rear-seat head restraints, especially if such have been correctly adjusted for taller teenage or adult passengers. The heads of any such passengers will, of course, also increase any obstruction to the driver’s view. The view through the interior mirror is therefore often far less than perfect which means that the view directly to the rear through the exterior mirrors becomes much more important. This facility is lost if the exterior mirrors are set ‘wide’.

5. In longer vehicles, such as 7-seat mini vans* and the larger models of SUVs, the very length of the vehicle usually means that the view via the interior mirror, through the now more distant back window, is much narrower than it is in a shorter vehicle. This means that the view via the interior mirror covers a smaller angle and once again the view directly to the rear through the exterior mirrors becomes much more important. [*Glossary note: In some other countries, the U.S. ‘mini van’ is known as an MPV or a ‘people carrier’.]

6. If a mini van or an SUV has a double back door (as opposed to a lifting/lowering tailgate) the vertical metalwork between the two back windows creates another, sometimes very significant blind spot which makes the interior mirror even less effective than in ‘5’, above. Yet again the view directly to the rear through the exterior mirrors becomes even more important.


This photograph shows the view through a convex mirror (i.e. wide-angle to the left of the feint, dotted line) but it also shows that the motorcyclist nearest the car, would actually be in a new and deadly blind spot if the mirror had been angled “wide” — see the diagrams, above.  Photo courtesy of Volvo, one of the first car makers to fit blind spot warning devices. Such systems, as they become more commonplace, will create yet another point in the argument that setting exterior mirrors wide is ill-advised and unnecessary.  

7.  If a relatively tall vehicle, such as a mini van, a big pick-up or an SUV is being followed by a low car, such as a sports car, the low car may be completely hidden, below the view line of the bigger vehicle’s interior mirror, due to tailgate or back window height, but traditionally angled exterior mirrors will give a glimpse of a low vehicle each time it strays out from being directly behind the larger vehicle.

8.  The most obvious problem of all relates to reversing. Of course a driver must look over his/her shoulder(s) when doing this, but mirrors are usually essential, too — especially in larger vehicles, such as SUVs and vans — so if, for example, a driver is backing into or out of a parking space near a busy mall, how is he/she to clearly see a pedestrian who walks into the much enlarged blind spots (illustration: Car Two, above) that the ‘wide’ method creates? It cannot be a case of leaning the head to one side to see out of an exterior mirror because that automatically puts the other two mirrors out of alignment while this is happening and two thirds of the available mirror view is therefore lost. The only wise method of setting the mirrors so that reversing is always as safe as possible is the traditional method, never the new, ‘wide’ method.

     [Please remember, when reversing/backing it is essential to continually check all around — forwards, behind, over both shoulders and in all appropriate mirrors. Reverse slowly so that you have time to do this.]

Craig Steichen, VP of Marketing for Super Concepts, and Q of West Coast Customs (MTV's "Pimp My Ride") stand next to a customized 2005 Ford Escape SUV. (Photo from Ford; February 2005)
Craig Steichen, VP of Marketing for Super Concepts, and Q of West Coast Customs (MTV’s “Pimp My Ride”) stand next to a customized 2005 Ford Escape SUV.   (Photo from Ford; February 2005)

9. The photograph above shows yet another situation where setting the exterior mirrors “wide” would affect safety:  Stickers significantly blocking the view through the rearview mirror

There is a simple, sensible rule about vehicle windows that unthinking people often forget about, and that is: “Keep all windows clean and clear.”

Putting stickers on any window in a car, in a position where they can interfere with a driver’s view, either when looking directly through the window or when looking through the interior mirror, is thoughtless and — frankly — stupid. It is in the same category as dangling anything from the interior mirror.

There is no good excuse for doing these things and good safety reasons not to do them.

To counter the inevitable criticism of our opinion we will ask a question. We wonder (for example) how many motorcyclists, bicyclists or pedestrians have died around the world because a sticker or something hanging from an interior mirror have momentarily hidden their presence when a driver briefly glanced for a view? — If anyone even remotely thinks the answer might be “none” then sadly you are very much mistaken.

10.  Another aspect that comes into this argument is tinted windows. Particularly at dusk or dawn, or during other periods of poor light, a tinted rear window will significantly reduce the efficacy of the interior mirror. But as the glass in the windshield and the front side windows may not be heavily tinted, the exterior mirrors will not be impaired by tinted glass — yet another reason to keep them in the traditional position to allow some rearward view at all times.  Self-dimming mirrors can at times cause similar problems.

With the exception of physically disadvantaged people, as mentioned earlier in this article, why should glancing over one’s shoulder even be seen as a tiresome chore? Pilots in busy flight areas do it constantly and there is no good or valid reason why drivers should not do likewise on busy roads. Obviously, it would be a foolish person who looked over his/her shoulder for too long, or who did it at an inopportune moment, but that is not what is under discussion.

Setting the exterior mirrors of a car by traditional, ‘close’ guidelines is much safer and facilitates a better overall rearward view than does the modern idea of setting the exterior mirrors ‘wide’.

The writer of this article had the good fortune to be trained as an ‘advanced driver’ and an ‘advanced motorcyclist’ as part of becoming a traffic patrol police officer in Britain. Learning to the UK ‘police advanced’ standard is an acutely intensive process which involves several hundred hours of training on public roads, among ordinary traffic, often at speeds significantly in excess of 100mph. It is said by many to be the highest level of public road driver training available anywhere in the world.

While serving as a traffic patrol officer he specialised in road safety for young drivers and riders, and after leaving the force became a qualified (DfT-ADI) driving instructor.

He was later invited to become the managing director of a UK advanced driver training company which was established to make training available to ordinary people to take them to the same extremely high standards of driving as British police ‘traffic’ officers (except for the extreme-speed element). During the same period, he became a donor organ transportation driver, often operating at remarkably high speeds where, of course, safety was paramount for all the usual reasons plus one extra.

He now lives in the USA where he founded Drive and Stay Alive, Inc., in order to help bring the safety message to as many drivers as possible — especially those most at risk, young drivers under the age of 25. He is now the CEO & Chief Instructor for Advanced Drivers of North America, Inc., and has instructed thousands of drivers in both defensive and advanced driving in more than 40 American States and in 6 Canadian provinces.


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