Risk Manager Pro-Tip: How to Set Your Car’s Rearview Mirrors
Yesterday I came across some old materials I used to use when conducting driver safety classes. (And when I say “old,” I really mean it. I had delegated this class to minions years before I retired.)
One of the sections from the class jumped out at me, because it was the one thing I used to teach that no one ever seemed to know before I taught it: How to set your rearview mirrors.
In fact, in the decades since I first learned this I’m not sure I’ve met anyone that properly sets their correctly. Even when I tell people in my flesh life, they come back and say they tried it and immediately went back to the way they did it before because it “felt wrong.” (This includes my wife.) And indeed, it does feel wrong when you first make the change. If you’re like 90% of drivers out there, you’re used to looking in your two side mirrors and seeing exactly what you see when you look in your main rearview mirror: A car about 20-40 feet behind you.
The thing of it is that you only need one mirror — the main rearview — to see that car behind you. When you have everything else set to look at it as well, you have two huge blind spots: approximately 95-125° behind each shoulder. When you’re changing lanes, this is an area you have to be able to see. Most people compensate by craning their neck behind them — while still moving forward, often at speeds of up to 70mph or greater, to survey those lanes. As you can imagine, a lot of accidents (especially highway accidents that are so deadly) occur because people do this.
The way your mirrors should work is like this:
When you’re driving, you can see whats directly behind you, as well as what’s about >40 feet behind you in each adjacent lane. If someone begins to pass on the right, the moment the far right corner of their car leaves your main rearview mirror, it appears in your right side view mirror. As it continues to pass, the moment it’s left hand corner disappears out of your right side view mirror, it appears in your line of peripheral vision when you are facing straight ahead. The exact same thing happens on your left side. So when you have your mirrors set properly, not only do you have no blind spots, you never have to move your head while driving to see everything around your car.
So, how exactly do you set your side view mirrors this way? It’s incredibly easy:
- While your car is parked, sit in the drivers seat and lean to your left until the side of your head is against the driver door window.
- Set the mirror so that the side of the car is just barely in the field of view of the mirror.
- Lean the same amount you just leaned to the left over to the right, and do the same: Set the mirror so that the other side of the car is just barely in the field of view of the mirror.
And that’s it. You’re done.
As I said, this will feel wrong the first time you drive with your new settings. Resist the urge to go back to the way it was. You’ll get used to it pretty quickly, and most people who change say that the first time they witness the fluid sight progression — rearview mirror to side mirror to peripheral vision — without having to turn their heads that it’s pretty cool.