Although first appearing nearly 100 years ago, car mirrors only became standard equipment on most vehicles in the 1970s. Today, your car or truck has three mirrors that are designed to work as a single system to help you stay apprised of what’s going on around your vehicle.
With a side mirror on each front door, and a rear-view mirror in the middle of the front windshield, drivers can get a virtually uninterrupted view of the road and traffic behind them at a mere glance provided they are properly set up. Keyword: properly.
If they are properly angled, the three mirrors are designed to deliver a comprehensive view – like a widescreen image. Glancing from your left to your rear-view to your right mirrors will quickly reveal important information about the road behind you with virtually no blind spots.
Rick Morelli and Gerry Low are race car drivers and professional driving instructors. Their company, Driveteq.ca, specializes in the development of skills for driving not only on racetracks but also on streets and highways.
A common theme they stress when developing and honing skills required for safe and competent driving in any situation is “vision.” Your eyes are your most valuable tool when it comes to driving.
As your car’s mirrors work as an extension of your vision, Morelli and Low said a proper set up will make it easier to see potential hazards, reduce second guessing and ensure your eyes spend more time on the road ahead. It can also improve driver confidence and reduce stress.
Morelli said it all starts with the driver. “Before setting your mirrors, you should take the time to make sure you’ve got a proper seating position,” he said.
“You should be able to reach all the pedals comfortably with a slight bend in the knee. Additionally, you should be a comfortable distance from the steering wheel, with your hands positioned at nine and three (like the hands on a clock) with a 90-degree bend in your elbows.”
Morelli said one way to ensure your torso is positioned properly is to rest your wrists on the top of the steering wheel with a slight bend in elbows. Then, adjust your seat so that your shoulder blades remain in contact with the seat back.
Low said once you are seated in the proper manner, you can begin positioning your vehicle’s mirrors. “Regarding the inside rear-view mirror, the driver’s eyes should have uninterrupted forward vision between the bottom of the mirror and top of the steering wheel,” said Low. This means no GPS screens, mounted smartphones or dash cams should be placed in the space between the mirror and steering wheel.
“Accessories that create a momentary vision block are problematic,” said Low. “Consider a driver turning right at a traffic light: he can generally see a walking pedestrian. However, if the pedestrian is running or a person is riding a bike, the vision block might hide the runner or cyclist for that critical moment in time.
“In fact, tall drivers have a problem with the vision block that the rear-view mirror creates,” he said. “They have to be extra careful.”
After ensuring nothing is blocking your sightline of the rear-view mirror, it is time to adjust it. “Ideally, the rear-view mirror should enable the driver to view the entire rear glass,” Low said. “However, as most cars fall short of this ideal, adjust the mirror toward the passenger side to reduce the passenger side blind spot. Then, set the outside mirrors to reduce the blind spot on both sides of the car.”
To achieve this, he said, sit erect in the driver’s seat and lean 80 millimetres to the left and then the right to set each respective mirror. “The driver should just be able to see a small portion of the body of their vehicle in the interior edge of each mirror.”
Low said this means when the driver is seated properly (and no longer leaning slightly), they should not be able to see the sides of their vehicle at all
“Most drivers were taught years ago to adjust both mirrors so as to see a small portion of the vehicle’s body in the lower inside corner of each mirror,” said Low. He said the problem with this method is that it still leaves blind spots. By doing it the way he suggested, Low said it will ensure the driver can scan all three mirrors and know exactly what is going on behind the vehicle at any given moment.
“A quick shoulder check before committing to a lane change should catch approaching speeding or erratic drivers,” Low said. “The best possible visual sightlines coupled with full mental engagement will allow each driver to arrive safely at their destination.”