Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) in a 2010 Volvo XC60
Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) in a 2010 Volvo XC60. Click image to enlarge

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By Paul Williams

Many cars now feature a blind spot alert system to help drivers as they change lanes. I’m all for this, as every little bit helps when it comes to driver safety. Mazda, for instance, has a nice system on its Mazda6 sedan whereby a yellow light at the base of the mirrors will illuminate to let you know a vehicle is approaching from the rear and to the side of your car (I think Mazda borrowed this from Volvo). A friend of mine has a Mazda6 and she loves this feature. Audi and BMW each have their own versions, too, called Audi Side Assist and Active Blind Spot Detection, respectively.

Infiniti has a new system that not only gives you a visual alert if a car is approaching from behind and beside, but if you attempt to change lanes when a vehicle is doing so, your steering wheel will actually “push back” to counteract the manoeuvre. It’s called Blind Spot Intervention. Perhaps this is one step closer to cars doing the driving for us.

Ford Blind Spot Information System (BLIS)
Audi Side Assist
Ford Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) (top); Audi Side Assist. Click image to enlarge

But I’m reminded of the late Charlie Goodman, Canadian car racer and performance driving school owner, who for years waged a crusade against the so-called “shoulder check” when changing lanes. Proponents said that the shoulder-check was the only way you could ensure there wasn’t a car in your blind spot; Charlie Goodman said that if your rear-view mirrors were set properly, you wouldn’t have a blind spot in the first place. He further opined that looking behind you while driving along at 100 km/h was downright crazy.

Charlie taught me how to set my mirrors many years ago, and you know what? He was right. In most vehicles, if you properly adjust your mirrors, there’s no such thing as a blind spot. Consequently, you can keep your eyes on the road ahead at all times, with the security that you’re not going to sideswipe a car when changing lanes.

Not that I’m against electronic aids, but in case you don’t know, here’s how to set your mirrors to eliminate blind spots.

Most vehicles these days have three mirrors: one on the left, one in the middle and one on the right. The idea is to position the three mirrors in such a way that vehicles behind you are always visible in at least one of them (on many cars the outside mirrors are power-adjustable, so there’s no excuse for not setting them).

Rather than setting your mirrors in your driveway, or when driving along in town, the best place to fine-tune the adjustment of your mirrors is on a divided highway, where you’ve got two or more lanes of vehicles travelling in the same direction.

The next time you’re on such a highway, take advantage of the opportunity and ensure that that your inside mirror is centred to reflect a clear view out of the rear window. That will enable you to see traffic directly behind you.

Then, identify a vehicle as it approaches you from behind that is preparing to pass. Observe it in your inside mirror as it gets closer, and watch it move from behind you, and into the passing lane. Note how it moves from your inside rear-view mirror, to your left, outside mirror.

Your first challenge is to adjust your left outside mirror to ensure that at no point does the passing car disappear from view when it is moving from behind you and into the lane beside you (it should either be in one mirror or the other, and for a short period, part of it will be in both).

Now, watch as that car approaches in your left mirror (paying attention to traffic ahead, of course…). Typically, the vehicle will get closer, and will eventually disappear from view (the dreaded “blind spot!”).

However, at that point you should further adjust your mirror so that you can still see the car. You will know it’s properly adjusted when the passing car moves out of the view of the left mirror, and emerges pretty much right beside you. In that event, you’ll see it with your peripheral vision, or by simply glancing to the left.

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