Officials Mislead America About Highway Safety (article from 2003)

First published n the Drive and Stay Alive website on Dec 3, 2003:

Being economical with the truth is a common political tactic and nowhere is this more the case than in the arena of US highway safety. Recent quotes – published rather ironically on Thanksgiving Day – make this deceit-by-omission very apparent.

The claim is that America, in the international rankings for road deaths in relation to distances traveled, has fallen from first place to ninth over the last thirty years. Yet this is only half the story and it gives a highly misleading insight. The figures are seemingly based on the International Road Traffic and Accident Database, administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Belgium. Yet the IRTAD actually gives two measurements by which death rates may be judged: deaths per 1 billion vehicle kilometres – a similar parameter to the figures used in the above claim – and deaths per 100,000 population.

Is there a big difference? You bet there is. And surely the key criterion must be the actual number of people who are killed, not how many miles they can successfully travel before that tragic moment occurs.

It has long been internationally acknowledged that, statistically, the safest roads on which to drive are divided highways, whatever they are called locally and whichever country they happen to be in. There is, after all, generally no oncoming traffic to worry about, no pedestrians, no bicyclists, few serious curves, and the intersections are few and far between. Crashes on such roads, relatively speaking, are therefore quite rare. If the sheer size of the USA is taken into account, the importance of this factor starts to loom. The large distances between many American cities and towns undeniably affect the total number of miles traveled, but these are journeys that are usually undertaken on safer, divided highways, so deaths-per-mile statistics reduce accordingly.

Only a few other countries have such large distances as a factor. Canada, for example, has 1.42 million kilometres of public roads and Australia has 900,000 km, but both have a much lower population and a lower death rate, per capita, than the USA. The much smaller size of many of the other countries involved has the opposite effect: the roads have a much greater density of vehicles per mile, and this is likely to increase the number of crashes. From figures given in the IRTAD, one finds, for example, that the number of passenger cars and station wagons on Britain’s roads is almost exactly the same, in proportion to the population, as is found in the USA. But Britain only has 396 thousand kilometres of roads, compared with America’s 6.354 million kilometres. When these distances are converted to miles, the result is a potential density of 104 cars per mile of available road in the UK as opposed to a mere 32 in the USA.

The other parameter used in the IRTAD tables – the deaths per 100,000 population – gives an entirely different perspective. The most recent figures available, for 2001, show that the USA had 14.8 people killed in road accidents for every 100,000 members of the population. The top two countries, Britain and Norway, each had a rate of 6.1 deaths. Indeed, Turkey is listed as having a rate of just 5.6 but given the lack of supporting data and that country’s performance in the two previous years this would appear to be spurious. Yet now, all of a sudden, the USA shows herself to be about 2½ times worse than the best-performing countries and that certainly doesn’t sound as acceptable as the difference in the quoted “deaths per 100 million miles traveled” – 1.51 in the USA vs. 1.2 in Britain – a mere 25% variation. How easy it is to sanitize tens of thousands of pointless deaths by reducing them to the lowest possible figures.

It is all just playing with math; statistics don’t register as being dead bodies and untold grief. What it really means is that Britain, with a population of 59 million, lost 3,431 people in 2002 compared with 42,815 people killed on America’s roads. The population of the USA at that time was 285 million, only 4.83 times greater than Britain’s, and 4.83 multiplied by the UK death toll is 16,571. This would suggest that – if the USA could match the fatality ratios in Britain and Norway – over 26,000 American lives could be spared annually; just a little bit different to the 12,000 hitherto suggested. And even the 12,000 is indicative of dreadful failures to correct this situation.

Of course, it is not quite that simple. Several other factors affect death rates, but from an American perspective the most saddening fact is that the countries that have a lower (i.e. more acceptable) death rate than the USA are often ones with additional dangerous factors, such as higher overall speed limits, much smaller cars (which are less protective in crash situations), and a much lower proportion of divided highways.

Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is quoted in the New York Times as saying “We’ve got the safest vehicles in the world, so when you consider where we fall in the scheme of things, we can’t blame the vehicles.”

When asked about these comments, Tim Hurd, NHTSA’s Chief of Media Relations, said “I don’t believe Dr. Runge was talking about cars manufactured in the USA as opposed to cars made in other countries. His point was that low seat belt usage and drunk driving are the things that make the difference.”

But build quality and design represent an extremely important aspect of highway safety. History shows that automakers in several other countries have constantly held the lead in vehicle safety and still do – most notably Volvo, in Sweden, and Mercedes, in Germany. Honda is hot on their heels, too, with new crash testing facilities, both in Japan and Ohio. The list of safety advantages that non-U.S. cars have over American-made cars is very long. Apart from protective engineering standards, it includes many seemingly minor yet truly important things like compulsory yellow rear indicator lights, rather than red ones that not only don’t utilize the safety benefits of contrasting colors but also take away 50 percent of brake light efficiency when in use. High-intensity, red rear fog lights are another example. In Europe they are effectively a standard fitting and are used in matched pairs so that distances may be gauged in very poor visibility, yet in the USA they are usually fitted only to European-made cars and – ludicrously – are in some states only permitted singly, rather than in pairs, so that they “cannot be confused with brake lights.” Do legislators truly not comprehend that in thick fog, falling snow or heavy road-spray it is being seen that is crucial, not whether the lights in question might be confused with brake lights? The fact is that on many fronts the USA does not manufacture the safest vehicles in the world and many more examples could be used to illustrate this.

It is fashionable, these days, for those with an engineering bias to claim that driver education plays little part in highway safety and that vehicle and road design are the most important factors, but in another recent article the American automotive journalist Eric Peters accurately identified a key problem when he wrote:  “Lack of skill—not speeding—is the fountainhead of America’s traffic problems. If you disagree, then you’ve got to explain how it is that the Germans routinely drive much faster than we do, yet, miraculously, have lower overall accident and fatality rates.

“Go to the head of the class if you guessed the Germans’ luck is due to more-demanding licensing requirements and skills testing—not anything special about the Germans themselves.

“It takes a lot to get a first-time driver’s license in Germany—as much as 25-45 hours of Fahrschule instruction, on the road, in a real car—culminating in an extensive written and practical test. The cost to pay for the necessary schooling (at an approved Fahrschule) and so forth runs about $1,500-$2,000. They don’t mess around. As a result, the road competence of the average German driver is much higher than that of the average American driver.

“Almost anyone (including a 10-year-old) can pull a lever from ‘Park’ into ‘Drive’ and get a vehicle rolling—and that’s about all we demand of people [in the USA] before issuing them a valid operator’s permit. That and a quickie written test that even Forrest Gump could pass.

“If we spent more time and energy on fostering better driving—rather than licensing just about anyone who can walk unaided into a DMV office—we’d almost certainly have fewer accidents…”

The American public should ask themselves why they are only getting half of the information and being told that the situation is reasonably good when, in fact, America is faring very badly in terms of highway safety and countless thousands are dying as a direct result. Down from first place to ninth? The more telling truths are that the USA is actually in 24th place out of 28 listed countries in the IRTAD, and the US death toll is currently the equivalent of the World Trade Center massacre being repeated every twenty-five days.

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Eddie Wren is a former traffic patrol police officer from the UK and a specialist in highway safety issues. He is the executive director of the NY-based “Drive and Stay Alive, Inc.”, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to reducing deaths on America’s roads, particularly among teen and twenties drivers. (As at 2003.)ENDS

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Re-posted here on the Advanced Drivers of North America website on June 14, 2017, again by Eddie Wren. The ADoNA Disclaimer & Copyright apply.

USA: Teen Crash Rates are Catastrophic Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Each Year

School is almost out for the summer and with the closing of school comes a rush of teen drivers, who are three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly crash, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s recent research.

The spike in accidents [collisions and deaths occur each year] between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when the average number of deadly teen driver crashes climb 15 percent, compared to the rest of the year. Over the past five years, more than 1,600 people were killed in crashes involving inexperienced teenage drivers during this 100-day time frame….

Read the full article at the Macomb Daily.

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Please note that the words “accidents” has been struck through, above, because road crashes are NOT accidents and the use of the word helps people harmfully believe that crashes “just happen” and are just bad luck — neither of which is true.

American Driving ‘Advice’ — Lessons in Mediocrity (“Signal for at least 100 feet”)

The businesses and individuals who publish or promote bad driving advice that they themselves have received from bodies that should be trustworthy on this crucial subject can hardly be blamed for regurgitating it.  But the state governments that so typically publish very poor or even dangerous advice in their state drivers manuals truly should know better …. If only!

In this instance, it is a huge insurance corporation, State Farm, that has published an article under the title of Time to Break These 5 Bad Driving Habits.  In it, two of the bits of advice (‘Rolling through stop signs’, and ‘Slowing down to look at crashes or construction’) are reasonable and adequately accurate.  Two more (‘Running yellow or red lights’, and ‘Disregarding the speed limit’) are poor and appear to have been written by someone who truly does not know enough about the subject of safe driving.  And — sadly — the fifth topic (‘Failing to signal’) is seriously flawed, as are the aforementioned state drivers manuals from which it is derived.

A single flash of the turn signal and out he comes! This is the precise equivalent of the so-called advice to “signal for 100 feet” because at 70mph a vehicle covers 103 feet-per-second – just one reason why such advice is nonsense.   Photo copyright 2011, Eddie Wren. All rights reserved.

The advice to “signal for at least 100 feet” is unreliable in more ways than one, as follows:

a)  At what speed does this “100 feet” guidance apply?  Clearly, 100 feet in a 30mph limit is a much lengthier proposition than 100 feet at 70mph, and for this reason alone it cannot be correct;

b)  Just how far is 100 feet?  This is a scenario I have demonstrated dozens of times on advanced and defensive driver training courses across the USA.  Basically, if — one-by-one — you take five individuals, on foot, to a section of road with which they are not conversant and ask them to name and describe a point that is 100 feet away, on that roadside, you are likely to get as many different answers as the number of people involved, and the distances they actually select can commonly be different by a factor of up to four!  This appears to be particularly pronounced in mixed groups of males and females.  So what use is an arbitrary distance — and 100 feet is arbitrary in everything except it being a nice, round number — if people typically cannot judge distances accurately?

c)  What potential ‘confusions’ exist within that arbitrary 100 feet?  Telling a person to signal for 100 feet is downright stupid if there is anything in that section of road to which the signal might alternatively apply (such as an intersection, driveway or business entrance before the one into which a turn is planned).  Drivers need to be taught to consider all possibilities in this context and to signal at the most appropriate time… It’s not difficult!)

d)  This ‘signal for 100 feet’ advice is given in some state drivers manuals in relation to lane changes on divided highways, and this is where we really do get to see the ignorance of whoever dreamt up this nonsense.  At 70mph — a common highway speed, even where the limit is somewhat lower — a vehicle is covering the ground at 103 feet-per-second, so perhaps the original writer of the advice would like to explain how signaling for less than a second can even remotely be acceptable or in any way worthwhile.  Most drivers know how we all typically feel if someone gives a single flash of the turn signal before pulling across and ‘cutting us up’.

In 2007, in Detroit, I presented a research paper at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress, under the title of ‘State Drivers Manuals Can Kill Your Kids!‘ to specifically cover this topic of stunningly bad advice being promoted to new young drivers in state drivers manuals, clearly written by people who have no in-depth knowledge whatsoever of best-practice safe driving techniques.

Footnote:  Papers which the SAE publishes are subsequently put on sale by them (with the relatively modest, $27 fee going entirely to them, not the authors) and this paper is therefore available via the above link.  Whilst this final comment is immodest, for which I apologize, I believe it is relevant that the paper was also voted, by the audience, into the top five percent of all of the >700 papers presented at the event and as a result was awarded an SAE ‘Excellence in Presentation’ award.

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

 

Driving: The USA Continues to Get it Wrong with Roundabouts

Background: Traffic circles — which are not the same thing as roundabouts — were first used in Roman times, for chariots.  ‘Modern roundabouts’ (the correct technical name) were first invented and put to use in Britain in the mid-1960s.  The USA stuck with traffic circles and in some states ‘rotaries’ (also different) until early in this new, 21st Century and even now some states are still in this hiatus.

Why build roundabouts at all?  The reasons are overwhelming.  Using roundabouts improves traffic flow on busy roads or at previously-complex intersections, and — even more importantly — they reduce the occurrence of fatal and serious-injury crashes by well over ninety percent because they prevent T-bone/right-angle collisions, which in turn are extremely dangerous to vehicle occupants.

An excellent ‘map’ sign, showing the layout and exit-destinations of a roundabout in Washington State. (This is clearly a roundabout where painting arrows on the road/pavement surface could be very confusing.) Copyright, 2015.

Situation:  Many of America’s new ‘modern roundabouts’ — and I have encountered a lot in the many states in which I have instructed defensive- and advanced driving — are usually well-designed, except for three extremely important factors.

What are the problems that concern us?

Another roundabout – this time Wixom, MI – but while the green ‘map’ sign is quite good, it would have been better further away from the roundabout to give drivers more time to view it and react in plenty of time. Copyright, 2014.

The first is the fact that most roundabouts, to this day, in the USA do not have what one might call ‘map’ or ‘layout’ signs on each approach, showing drivers well in advance the exit they will need from the roundabout, to reach their destination.  It is both arrogant and dangerous to assume that the drivers in any location are *all* local and all know which way to go at any intersection.  And given that many drivers are still very uncomfortable on roundabouts — at least in part because of our third concern, below — anything that risks a driver swerving late to the right to take the exit they need, or swerving left, equally late, to stay on the roundabout when they were preparing to exit from it, is clearly dangerous and can cause collisions.  Whether or not a collision results, such incidents serve to reinforce people’s fear of roundabouts and are therefore doubly damaging.

To drivers who are not used to roundabouts, a sudden mass of white markings and arrows on the road surface can be overwhelming. At this location, in Albany, NY, vehicles entering this roundabout from the left side of the photo and going three-quarters of the way round the roundabout to where the semi-tractor-trailer is at in this photo, actually have to cross a solid white line between lanes on the roundabout but vehicles are not meant to cross solid white lines! Very confusing and, we would suggest, unacceptable! Copyright, 2014

Our second concern follows from the first, in that the various lanes on American roundabouts do not always follow a set regime regarding which lane one should take for going left (properly described as being “more than half way around the roundabout”), going straight ahead, or turning right.  In the absence of the above-mentioned map/layout signs, drivers only discover at the very last moment, just a few yards before reaching the actual roundabout, which lane they need to be in, and when this happens, yet more frantic and potentially dangerous swerves take place, but this time as lane changes, rather than “exit or stay”.  Indeed, at roundabouts with more than four entry/exit roads — and quite rightly there are plenty like this — or at roundabouts where the entries and exits do not form a geometrically symmetrical crossroads, such last-minute lane allocations can be a real challenge.

Our third concern is that we know of no states that are advising people to use turn signals before entering roundabouts, during their journey through a roundabout (both ‘as applicable’) and always when leaving the roundabout.  This is part of a systemic failure throughout the USA to educate drivers accurately how to drive around roundabouts correctly, and this failure has left a significant proportion of American drivers disliking or afraid of roundabouts — an immensely undesirable scenario.

ADoNA Training

All ADoNA training courses include full best-practice, theoretical training on how to correctly use roundabouts for maximum safety, and as long as there are any roundabouts near the training location you select, there will be full practical training as well.

Improving the Overall Situation

Around 2006-07, my own concern about what can only be classed as flaws in the correct design and use of roundabouts in America triggered me to start communicating with officialdom at national, state and local levels about the situation, but not for the first time, we were met with what can only be described as a stone wall — a total unwillingness to even acknowledge, let alone reply to, our communications on this important matter.

In exasperation, we have to ask what is this failure to employ the best-practices developed by other countries that have been using modern roundabouts for more than 60 years?   Do the administrators concerned bizarrely believe that proven and refined safety techniques are of no importance here in America so they’re just going to do it their own way?  I’m sorry, but either way this is grossly unacceptable and certainly gives the impression of arrogance — a case of “re-inventing the wheel but very badly.”

Recommendations
  1. Use ‘map’/’layout’ signs on every approach to all except the most-localized of roundabouts, so that visiting or inexperienced drivers are not left floundering as to which lane to use on the approach to the roundabout or not knowing which exit they will need to take from the roundabout until they actually reach it.
  2. Develop a single (i.e. national!) policy for which lanes drivers should use at any roundabout in the USA — based on the geometry of any particular roundabout — “except where signs show otherwise.”  Such an over-arching rule would allow all American drivers the chance to understand the benefits and use of roundabouts, and should be in every state’s drivers’ manual, with exactly the same wording so that there can be no drift away from its exact meaning.
  3. Teach drivers when and where to signal, on the approach, the transit through and the exit from any and every roundabout.  It is a remarkably easy rule to learn.  Failure to teach drivers this is to treat them like idiots, and if you treat drivers like idiots, they will all drive like idiots!

It is a sad but inescapable and relevant fact that the USA is effectively the worst-performing developed nation in the world when it comes to road safety and reducing an excessively high number of road deaths each year.  With a death-rate more than four-times worse than the leading nations of Sweden and the UK, America has a very long way to go to improve its highway safety to even just an acceptable level.

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

Also see our page: More on Roundabouts

May 2017

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).

mirror-angles

.               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.

mirror-exterior_lhd_drivers-side_(courtesy-volvo)_70%

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.

 

The above article is subject to our Disclaimer and Copyright.

Advanced Drivers of America, Inc., has now become Advanced Drivers of North America, Inc., to better illustrate the area we cover.

In other words, ‘ADA’ is now ‘ADoNA’.

We also have a new website in the process of development, naturally at the same URL, but as we carry a lot of online information not just for clients but to help all drivers be safer, this really is a work-in-progress and will take some time.

www.advanceddrivers.com

Please feel free to tell us of any errors or omissions you might find. It would be both helpful and appreciated.