Since the dawn of time (or at least since we've had rear- and side-view mirrors on automobiles), our parents and our parents' parents have been instructing us on where to point our side-view mirrors.  And along with this instruction comes the dire warnings of the perilous danger of the Evil Blind SpotsTM that exist when you're behind the wheel.    

Judging by the number of folks I see out on the road who attempt to imitate that scene from The Exorcist when they're changing lanes, whoever taught you to drive also instructed you that the only sure-fire way to avoid slamming into a nearby car when changing lanes is to quickly peer around the driver's headrest like a myopic owl before crossing the dotted line.

What if I told you there was a better way to avoid that heart-stopping situation where you realize you've just plotted your car on a collision course with the car in your blind spot?  One that doesn't involve buying the SkyMall "bigger is better" mirror and definitely doesn't involve risking whiplash every time you want to change lanes?

You'd probably be as skeptical as I was, the first time I heard about the alternative I'm about to share with you.  But seeing is believing (pun intended), and if you try out this hack for a little bit, I'll bet you'll be visiting your chiropractor only half as often as you do right now.

The big secret is the placement of the side-view mirrors.  Typically, we all tend to point our side-view mirrors so we can see the back corners of our car.  But if you think about it, there's actually very little point in watching the back corner of your car.  Why should you?  It's not like it ever moves!  Why not point your mirrors somewhere that actually adds some value to your field of vision?  

By moving the side mirrors farther out, you can line up all three of your mirrors so they have minimal overlap, and you can see EVERYTHING behind you AND beside you!  Here's how you do it:

  • Step 1. Set up your rear-view mirror the way you normally would.  You need to be able to see out the rear window of your car.  So take down that bobblehead doll collection if it's impeding your view.

  • Step 2.  Sitting in the driver's seat, lean your head all the way to the left so it touches the driver's window.  From THAT position, set your driver's side-view mirror so you can see the back corner of the car.  You WON'T be able to see your back corner of your car when you sit back up straight.

  • Step 3. Lean the same distance towards the passenger's window as you did in Step 2 (but the other way).  Adjust your passenger-side mirror the same way.

Now here's what you'll see now that you've broken the taboo of taking your mirrors off the rear corners of your car:

  • When a car comes up behind you, you'll see it square-on in your rear-view mirror.  But as it passes you on the left, you'll see it move to the left side of your rear-view mirror, and as its headlight disappears from the rear-view mirror, it'll simultaneously show up in your left-side mirror.

  • Similar behavior occurs when a car passes you on the right.  At every point from directly behind you to just behind your driver-/passenger-side windows, you'll be able to have the car in view in one of your mirrors.

So what's the catch, you may ask?  There are a few drawbacks, but only one lasting one.

1. Your side view mirrors are no longer showing you the rear corners of your car.  This could throw you off BIG TIME if you are in the habit of using your mirrors to help guide you in backing up.  This drawback never goes away, so if you just CAN'T figure out how to back up without using your mirrors to help you, might be out of luck.

2. You MUST use your rear-view mirror now.  You have to rely on it to see what's behind you, as your side-view mirrors now show you what's going on in the lanes next to you.  If you don't have a rear-view mirror or can't rely on it, again you might be out of luck.

3. This new approach may take some adjustment to get the right setup with your mirrors the first time you try this out.  Rather than wait until you're in rush-hour traffic to fine-tune your mirror angles, try pulling up next to a line of parked cars (preferably with nobody waiting behind you) and slowly pull forward until the car next to you should be in a position to be seen in both mirrors.  Adjust the mirrors until you've got the view right, and then go practice in light traffic until you feel comfortable with the new approach.

4. Someone using your car may be completely bewildered at first.  Technically, they're always supposed to adjust the mirrors to suit them before they get on the road, but you may want to remind them before they back your car into a telephone pole when they try to rely on your mirrors for help.

It's also important to note that this does NOT absolve you of a need to look out the driver-/passenger-side windows when you're changing lanes.  But now you need only look directly left/right from the direction you're heading, rather than craning your head to look almost-behind-you to see if there's a car in your blind spot.

Happy motoring!  Send me a note if you try this out and let me know how it works for you.  I love it and will never go back to the "tried-and-true" approach of purposefully creating blind spots in my field of vision.


Illustrations and general concept shamelessly re-purposed from the much less verbose instructions on the Car Talk website.

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