Sometimes the basics aren’t so basic. Case in point, checking your blind spot.
Identifying your blind spots is one of the first things that come up when learning to drive. Ensuring you know what’s around your vehicle is vitally important to remaining safe on the road. As basic and important as it is, it’s all too easy to insufficiently check your blind spots when changing lanes or making similar maneuvers.
For instance, you’re in semi-heavy traffic on the commute home from work. Your mind is wandering, recalling that email you shouldn’t have sent or what you’ll be cooking for dinner. Oops, there’s your turn up ahead and you haven’t changed lanes yet. You could use grandpa’s tried-and-true method of simply lazing over into the next lane with your blinker on, assured that other drivers will see you and accommodate your lane change. Alternatively, you could do what your high school driving instructor told you and quickly look over your shoulder to ensure there are no vehicles in your blind spot before changing lanes.
At minimum, the latter ensures you’re not dangerously enraging your fellow motorists, in addition to being far safer for you and other vehicles on the road. But checking your blind spots is often easier said than done. Many of today’s massive vehicles had significant blind spots. And it’s not just hulking SUVs, either. Sports cars, like the Toyota Supra or Chevrolet Camaro, have low roofs, thick pillars, and narrow rear windows, making them harder to see out of. Driving in such vehicles makes blind spot awareness even more important. Here’s what you need to know.
As we said at the outset, identifying your blind spots is one of the first things you learn as a driver. And that begins with ensuring that your rearview and side mirrors are situated to give you the best field of view of your surroundings. Even with them positioned correctly, you’ll still have blind spots between the mirrors where you cannot see.
Once on the road, the basic method of checking your blind spot is the “shoulder check” where you glance over your right or left shoulder to see. One problem with the basic shoulder check, however, is how brief it often is. Because it requires you to take your eyes off the road, motorists make shoulder checks as quickly as possible, sometimes too briefly for your brain to process what you’re seeing. That fleeting glimpse can sometimes miss a vehicle, with dire consequences. Therefore, when performing a shoulder check, make sure you’re not doing it too fast.
It’s also important to check the blind spots in front of your car. The A-pillars, that’s the roof struts that sit between the wind shield and your front doors, can also obscure your view. This is especially important when turning into traffic from a junction.
If you’re driving anything with a trailer attached, you’ve got an elongated blind spot. Some trucks, like the F-250 and RAM 2500 offer larger side mirrors to compensate for this. But even with larger side mirrors, major blind spots persist. This makes awareness of your surrounding vehicles all the more important.
Unlike in regular commuting, long highway runs with a trailer or camper in tow allows drivers the time and space to track the vehicles around them. Monitoring your mirrors and keeping track of vehicles that have come up behind you is the best way to know when someone has entered your blind spot. (And this advice extends to vehicles of any size, not just large ones.)
For more information on how to drive with a trailer, check out this helpful explainer.
Thankfully, you’re not stuck with the basic shoulder check for your blind spots. There are low-tech and high-tech solutions that can be a tremendous help in making sure you know what’s going on around your car. The simplest of these is a small convex mirror that you can mount to the driver’s side mirror (or both). These mirrors extend your peripheral field of view, allowing you to see into your vehicle’s blind spot without having to make a full shoulder check.
Next, there are aftermarket blind spot monitoring systems. These usually operate using sonar or radar to detect vehicles in your blind spot and can range in price from less than $50 to several hundred dollars. Quality and ease of installation can vary widely with these systems.
Today, blind spot monitoring has become a common feature on vehicles, though often still the province of upper trim levels. Most of these systems provide a small indicator light on your side mirror that will light up when there is a vehicle in your blind spot. Some manufacturers, like Hyundai/Kia have gone so far as to use cameras and send that feed to a digital dash display so you can see what’s in your blind spot. Here are some of the most affordable cars with blind spot monitoring systems.
Even with the latest in blind spot monitoring, it’s recommended to still perform a quick shoulder check, allow the tech to perform as a redundant safety device. Because failing to adequately check your blind spot could cause you to perform a police pit maneuver on yourself. Not cool.