Risk Manager Pro-Tip: How to Set Your Car’s Rearview Mirrors


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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31 Responses

  1. Avatar Kazzy says:

    But how am I supposed to know if I properly popped the gas tank?Report

  2. Avatar bluefoot says:

    I heard this tip on Car Talk years ago and started setting my mirrors like this. It most definitely works. I still have slight problems because I’m so nearsighted, and current glasses designs mean I don’t have as much peripheral vision as I’d like. Now if only we could do something about the cyclists who like to bike at night with no lights…Report

  3. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    I figured this out in my teens. I’ve never understood why people don’t use wing mirrors in this fashion.Report

  4. Avatar Damon says:

    Excellent reminder. Sadly, you assume people look before changing lanes and not just signal and move. 🙂Report

  5. Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

    Tod: you are a man of vast and wide-ranging knowledge.

    Thank you.Report

  6. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I do it correctly, too (ah, nothing like preening), but I know many people who don’t. I suspect Tod knows more people who don’t than the rest of us, because he lives in Oregon, where the lack of mandatory driver training has produced a vast number of drivers who lack basic concepts such as how to handle a four-way stop or that you ought not drive 55 mph in the left lane of Interstate 5 between Eugene and Portland.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

      My brother complains about Eugene drivers constantly.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Chris says:

        Eugene drivers complain about your brother constantly 😉

        More seriously, a friend from High School moved to Portland and she loves almost all of it except the driving. She hates Portland drivers with a fury.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        Several decades ago, during a budget crunch, Oregon legislators cut funding for driver’s ed in high school, relying on a study purporting to show that it wasn’t effective in reducing accident rates. Subsequent research repudiated that study’s findings, but the deed was done, so comparatively few Oregonians get comprehensive driver’s training when they’re teens.

        I wouldn’t say that Oregon drivers are “bad” drivers, in the sense of being more dangerous than drivers elsewhere, but they have certain quirks that stem from not learning basic principles. Four-way stops were always an adventure when I lived there. I wasn’t sure if the person who got there before me was going to sit behind their stop sign until all later-arriving traffic had cleared, or whether three cars in a line were all going to proceed through their stop sign at once (I came to the conclusion that they were operating on some kind of “it’s everyone-going-East’s turn now” rule).

        But at least they’re less prone to passing you on the right at high speed when the left lane is clear, which is the far more dangerous quirk of Los Angelenos.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to James Hanley says:

      And yet there’s studies likethis one that said, 30 studies from several countries that examined the effectiveness of formal driver education/training, motorcycle rider education/training programs, and advanced training courses for novice drivers. That review of scientific evaluations provided little support for the claim that driver instruction is an effective countermeasure. The preponderance of evidence failed to show that formally trained students have a lower frequency of crashes than those who do not receive such training. Even more discouraging, a few studies even showed a safety disbenefit—that is, an increase, rather than a decrease, in crash involvement. In some cases, this occurred because driver education resulted in earlier licensure, and consequently, more crashes. On balance, the weight of the evidence did not favor the hypothesis that formal instruction provides safety benefits.

      TL;DR version, driver’s safety classes seem to cause more harm than good.

      BTW, I’ve always done my rear view mirrors like that. I never leaned my head against the window however, just completed the arc from rear view to side view in my head with an imaginary focal point. Ok, it was more like an ellipse. 🙂Report

  7. Avatar wardsmith says:

    But as long as we’re talking about Oregon idiots I for one can’t wait for the RTod treatment on this issue. Hint hint 😉Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to wardsmith says:

      So, which states have the best and worst drivers? No fair naming your own state, you’re used to them. My own scale is “does something unexpected,” where that seldom happens in states with good drivers and happens a lot in a state with bad drivers. My experience is that California has the best drivers and Texas the worst. Never saw so many drivers that seemed to think “One Way” was just a suggestion as I did in Texas.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain says:

        States that have the most immigrants* probably have the worst drivers.

        (Note: I am not using this word to mean “Mexicans”. I mean people from different states.)Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Michael Cain says:

        CA drivers are very good, never had much trouble when I lived there.

        NY drivers are the worst I’ve experienced.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Michael Cain says:

        CA drivers are pretty good. I actually don’t think NYC deserves its bad rap, if we are using Michael Cain’s “predictable” metric: it’s easy to predict what any given NYC driver will do: whatever gets him ahead, and fishes somebody else over.

        I mean this: that guy on your left is 100% certain to try to squirt in, and that guy on yr right will never intentionally let you merge.

        In a way, this me-first aggressiveness is sort of freeing, if you just join in and don’t take it personally. I find it far less stressful than the unpredictability of 50/50 polite/rude drivers – now THERE’S a situation where people are doing unexpected things all the time.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Michael Cain says:

        My aforementioned brother jokes that Oregon drivers are at least practicable, because you always know they’ll do the wrong thing.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Also, Texas drivers these days are fine as long as you’re not trying to enter or exit a freeway, and it’s not raining (rain: Texas drivers:: snow: Tennessee drivers).Report

      • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Years ago a Chinese friend moved to Seattle and about a week later his car was totaled. I asked him what happened and he said he got hit by a DWO. I asked what that was and he said, “Driving While Oriental”. I’ve heard it more recently changed to DWA (oddly to be less offensive) Asians prefer being referred to as Asian versus Oriental. In almost no case have I heard Asians get offended at the DWA moniker but it seems pretty bad to me.

        While in Taiwan I got to see it up close and personal. On the ride in from the airport, just observing the traffic out the windows I made the bold assumption that at least 5 or 6 moped (or scooters or whatever they call them there) drivers must be getting killed every day. And yes I saw things like this every day. Interestingly while 99% of the drivers seemed to be doing a horrible job of obeying even the simplest of traffic laws, there were virtually NO accidents! Everyone seemed to be doing something stupid, outlandish and outright dangerous at every moment but they also were COUNTING on their neighbors doing the same (or worse). Therefore there was no such thing as holding onto your lane as someone crowded into you from the right, left and behind. You slowed down and made a new lane and pushed someone /else/ out of their spot, and they’d just do the same and the whole effect was a kind of chaotic but amazingly efficient ballet.

        Oh, and you were no safer on the sidewalk. If things got too dicey on the streets, the scooters would abandon them and take over the sidewalks. I asked my Taiwanese friends and hosts what they thought of all this and they just said, “Taiwan spirit”. When I asked Chinese from the mainland, they told me they were amazed how polite(?!!?) the Taiwanese drivers were. That didn’t make me want to test out the streets of Shanghai anytime soon.

        To sum it up, by our standards they are horrible drivers because they disobey every traffic law constantly. On the other hand, BECAUSE everyone is disobeying every traffic law, technically they are incredibly skilled drivers constantly making adjustments and avoiding accidents with amazing aplomb. I came to the conclusion that it was the American drivers who were horrible because I’ve personally witnessed drivers here ignoring what is happening (such as someone going through a red light) and t-boning them because they were “in the right” I suppose or just sleep(driving) through their day. American drivers (and I’m including myself here) wouldn’t last five minutes on the mean streets of Taipei.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I wonder if it’s even possible to start enforcing traffic laws in some of the more lawless cities in the world. They’ve each evolved a set of social norms that sort of work, and the traffic volume can be insanely high. How would you even start getting people to obey uniform rules without causing total chaos? “OK, effective this Friday, we’re all going to stop ignoring the lane dividers.”Report

      • @wardsmith I’ve not had the questionable pleasure of driving in Taiwan. But what you describe is how Italian drivers were described to me before I drove in their ancient and beautiful land. My evaluation of the drivers was other than as you describe.

        They’re terrifying. From the young bravos on the Vespas to the old guys in the Apecars (which are basically miniature pickup trucks build around a three-wheel motor scooter chassis) to the lorries, it seems at times that only the Americans and the Germans possess awareness that other things on the road might even be in motion. Full throttle, all the time, with not a moment’s thought about what the pedal in the middle of the driver’s footwell might be for, nor even a wisp of consciousness about concepts like “following distance” or “lateral proximity.”

        This is not a high-speed ballet, it’s an immediate and imminent threat of grievous bodily injury made all the more frightening by virtue of the callous disregard of human life evidenced by the perpetrators (who otherwise are a charming and warmly welcoming people).

        Alsotoo, if not in the pole position at a stoplight, when the light turns green, the horn turns on. A bit jarring for the touristichi trying to make sense of the sign advising that il centro is counterintuitively in tutti direzioni.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Michael Cain says:

        LOL Burt, I had the most distinct feeling of deja vu all over again and then I realized it WAS deja vu.:)

        Having been in all the major cities in Italy except for that one with the gondolas (and does it even count?_) and only a few of the major cities in Taiwan, my humble opinion is the drivers are scarier in Taiwan, but because they’re more skillful than the Italians the net effect is less horrific, if that makes sense. I did have a bus driver who quit after taking us to the top of Ana Capri. We only nearly died about five or six times on that trip, not sure what he was so upset about, except perhaps the crazy drivers coming down the hill while we were trying to go up. The van driver who took us to Alishan in Taiwan tried to kill us all at least 250 times. I actually think she believed the double yellow lines on the switchback roads meant “passing mandatory”.Report

      • Years ago a Chinese friend moved to Seattle and about a week later his car was totaled.

        This reminded me of a decades-old story. According to the ex-pat who told me, there was no place in Kuala Lumpur at that time where you could get your oil changed. This was supposedly because cumulative damage from accidents was going to render the vehicle unusable long before the engine died from running with old oil. Oil changes were a total waste of money and everyone knew it.Report

  8. Avatar Murali says:

    We were actually taught to set up our mirrors so that there was a slight blindspot. And rubber necking before you change lane is what checking your blindspot was all about. Of course you’re not supposed to rubberneck as you switch lane. You’re just supposed to have a quick glance to the side. The idea is that if the car is not in your blindspot but is in your side mirror, you can still cut in. The rough guide to adjust ing your mirror is that between 1/2 and 1/3 of your side mirror should be occupied by your car when you are in your driver seat sitting straight.Report

  9. Avatar Zac says:

    My mother taught this bit about sideview mirrors back when I first started driving; when I tell other people about it, they think I’m insane. Glad to know I’m not the only one out there who does this.Report

  10. Avatar Barry says:

    Thanks, Tod – I’ll try this.Report

  11. Avatar Boegiboe says:

    I set my mirrors this way this morning. So vision! Much safety! Wow!Report

  12. Avatar Fnord says:

    I’ve always been told to set my mirrors to get that FOV, and I’ve always tried.

    But I’ve never been told HOW to set my mirrors to get them in the right place until now. So thanks Tod!Report