12 Feb 16
There is an abundance of things you need to remember while driving. It should be an active process of thinking at all times, and it's only after a multitude of hours of practise that you can drive as though it's second-nature. However, it's still important that you are aware of your decisions and surroundings, and one of the things that many drivers forget to check in lieu of mirrors is their blind spot.
Of course, many modern cars come equipped with cameras and proximity detectors, but in the event that you're driving a used or old car, you won't receive such benefits.
The blind spot is a very important component of driving. The fact that it exists is a reminder that mirrors or cameras can never substitute for first-hand judgments. Accidents can and do happen, unfortunately, so make sure you reduce those chances by remembering to check your blind spot is.
What is a blind spot?
Typically, when most people use this term, it's to refer to that one spot in your side wing mirrors which you can't see. It requires you to turn your upper torso and head physically for a quick check to determine a clear path.
However, the National Roads and Motorists' Association explains that blind spots are anything where your view is obstructed. This can include the actual car itself, seats, door pillars and even the mirrors. Anything that you don't have a direct view of is considered a blind spot.1
Even your mirrors can obstruct your view, causing another blind spot to watch out for.
Why are blind spots so important?
You get a lot of visibility of your car's surroundings by using your mirrors, but there are no circumstances when you should just rely only on them. Too many instances of a car collision are due to one driver not seeing the other vehicle. Unfortunately, the results can be fatal.
The National Highway and Safety Administration has found that almost 840,000 accidents occur in the US each year that involve a driver's neglect of the blind spot. Of this, 300 crashes are, sadly, fatal.2 Accidents are just as likely on Australian roads if blind spots are ignored.
Not every car has blind-spot detection, so it's best to educate drivers about the importance of the blind spot to avoid accidents.
However, not acknowledging the blind spot when driving isn't just dangerous for other cars on the road. It includes pedestrians and also cyclists. The Institute for Road Safety Research has found that in the Netherlands, during the period between 2005-2013, the number of cyclist fatalities due to blind spot crashes are slowly decreasing, but still averaged at nine per year.3
This decrease can be due to newer cars with blind-spot detection technology equipped. However, as not everyone can afford a car with such capabilities, the better option is to educate every new, and old, driver about the importance of the blind spot. This will help to reduce the number of avoidable fatalities on Australian roads.
What can I do as the driver?
Blind spots aren't the only hazards on the road. You also don't need a flash, new car in order to drive safely. However, when looking at a used car, make sure it is roadworthy by getting a CarHistory report.
Your blind spots will vary depending on your height and the car's dimensions. A blog post on Car and Driver explains how to adjust your wing mirrors so that you get the best visibility.4
When sitting in the driver's seat, with legs comfortably reaching the pedals, your side mirrors should be tilted away so they just miss reflecting the car's side panels. This ensures that as soon as a car behind you leaves the vision of the rearview mirror, it appears in your side mirror.
While this opens up a larger scope of vision, there are still plenty of things that will obstruct your view. The best practice while driving is to remind yourself to always check your blind spots before reversing, changing lanes and parallel parking. If you set up a good routine, then blind-spot checking will hopefully become an automatic habit, ensuring that your driving is as safe as possible.
1National Roads and Motorists' Association, How to manage blind spot dangers. Accessed January 2016.