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.
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.
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).
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
settings prevent any other vehicles, including
motorcycles, from coming up behind, unseen.
Two: Setting the exterior mirrors 'wide'. Note the
large, red-striped blind spots inside (i.e. below) the
thick red lines, and the large areas of green
above those same lines.
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.
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 --
they were created using nothing more complex than the
'MS Paint' computer program -- but they still clearly
show that setting the mirrors 'wide' creates 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 technique seeks to
reduce -- it creates even more unnecessary overlap than
do the traditional settings.
Copyright © Eddie Wren, and 'Drive and Stay
question is, does this new 'wide settings' method actually do anything
at all to enhance safety?
The answer is a resounding 'No!'
several circumstances it will have exactly the opposite effect.
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:
The first 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.
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
are, however, at least eight reasons why you should not position the
exterior mirrors for a 'wide' view:
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
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
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. On urban roads with slow-moving traffic there is a similar danger
in respect of bicyclists coming past 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.
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
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
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
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,
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.
here or on the picture for a larger image that also
Volvo 'BLIS' warning light.
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, but
traditionally angled exterior mirrors will give a glimpse of it each time
it strays out from being directly behind the larger vehicle.
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.]
photograph shows yet another situation where setting the exterior
mirrors "wide" would affect safety.
is a simple, sensible rule about vehicle windows that unthinking
people often choose to sneer at, and that is: "Keep all
windows clean and clear."
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.
is no good excuse for doing these things and good safety reasons not
to do them.
counter the inevitable criticism of our opinion we will ask a
question. We wonder (for example) how many motorcyclists have died
around the world because a sticker or something hanging from an
interior mirror have momentarily veiled 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.
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.
from Ford; February 2005)
(paragraph) November 2005.
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.
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
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'.
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 -- a job which he did for fourteen years.
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.
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.
was later invited to become the managing director of an 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.
now lives in the USA where he has 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
here for a fuller bio.
last revised: June 6, 2004