Is Blind Spot Monitoring Worth the Extra Money?

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Is Blind Spot Monitoring Worth the Extra Money?

If your side mirrors aren’t set up correctly, if you’re driving in poor weather or even if you have a sore neck, checking your blind spot may be tough. Fortunately, automakers are offering blind spot monitoring systems on more and more vehicles. Are they worth the extra money?

Your car’s blind spots are the areas that are obscured by the vehicle’s bodywork. Your side view mirrors can be adjusted to help you get a better view of the area surrounding your car, but sometimes your view around your vehicle is still compromised. Furthermore, when there is more than one driver in your household, some people may be too lazy to adjust the mirrors or may not even notice that the mirrors aren’t in the ideal setting until it’s too late.

It’s important to have your mirrors correctly positioned so you can see where you are changing lanes, or else you risk getting into a major accident. Some automakers are offering blind spot monitoring systems to help you be more aware of what is in the adjacent lane to your vehicle. While the technology is standard on higher end vehicles, it has become an optional extra in many affordable compact cars like the Mazda3 and the Chevrolet Cruze.

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Most cars use a radar system to scan the space around your car and will use a bright LED light in your side view mirror, on the inside of your car, on the A-Pillar to let you know if a vehicle is in your blind spot. Furthermore, if you signal a lane change, your car will typically beep at you if there’s something in your blind spot, while the warning LED will blink quickly to warn you that it’s not safe to change lanes. It certainly catches your attention, and will easily make you reconsider your lane change.

How Useful Is It?

Like forward collision warning systems and lane departure warning systems, blind spot monitoring systems are part of a new suite of technologies being introduced in cars to reduce the number of collisions on the road. According to a study by the IIHS, if all passenger vehicles were equipped with these features, about 1 in 3 fatal crashes and 1 in 5 injury crashes could potentially be prevented or mitigated, which is a huge improvement. Those numbers come from an Institute analysis of 2004-2008 crashes and assume that the systems perform as advertised and drivers respond to them correctly. Further showing the usefulness of blind spot monitoring systems, the IIHS says that these systems would be especially useful in crashes involving trucks.

Alternatives

Honda LaneWatch.

Honda LaneWatch.

Other automakers are looking at ways to make blind spots less of an issue for drivers. Honda, in particular, has introduced its Lane Watch system, a feature that places a wide-angle camera under your passenger side mirror, and displays its contents on a screen on your dashboard. Seeing how most mirrors feature a field of vision between 18 to 22 degrees, and Honda LaneWatch’s field of view is 80 degrees, the system has clear advantages.

Here’s what Road Test Editor and noted Honda LaneWatch fan Mike Schlee says about the system.

“A lot of times when I mention that I like Honda’s Lane Watch camera, I receive a reply along the lines of “No one needs that if they know how to drive.” Well, it might be true that no one needs it, but I guess no one needs rear view mirrors, a back window or windshield wipers either. Honda’s Lane Watch camera is not about enabling a lazy driver or providing a crutch for those lacking in ability. It’s simply another aide that improves safety and skill level for all motorists alike. With an on-demand, real-time visual display of everything in your vehicles right-rear three-quarter view, Lane Watch helps with highway lane changes, curb parking and general awareness. My only complaint is that there be a function to not have it turn on EVERY time the right turn signal is depressed.”

Some automakers, like Infiniti, have active safety systems that will prevent you from changing lanes into another vehicle. Infiniti’s Blind Spot Intervention system will detect whether you are trying to change lanes into a car that is in your blind spot and will apply brakes to steer the car away from a potential crash.

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Better than your Eyes?

Can you always rely on technology to be better than your own set of eyes? Some studies say that blind spot assistance systems are too sensitive, going off unnecessarily.

ALSO SEE: Should Your Next Car Have Forward Collision Warning?

“Some blind-spot monitoring systems we tested had a short detection range, which meant that a vehicle was already in the blind spot before the alert came on,” said Megan McKernan, engineering manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California. “The lane-departure warning system on several vehicles experienced false-positive and miss-detections, which resulted in an inconsistent driver warning.”

Some common complaints are that these systems don’t understand double turning lanes or are overly sensitive and give false warnings. Bad weather can also affect how accurate the system’s sensors are. This causes the driver to stop paying attention to the warnings or to turn them off completely, which defeats the purpose of the system.

The Verdict: Is Blind Spot Monitoring Worth the Extra Money?

While useful, blind spot monitoring systems shouldn’t replace your usual driving habits that includes shoulder checks and properly adjusted side mirrors. They do, however, give drivers an added level of safety and the data says that they actually work. Sooner or later, blind spot monitoring systems will become legally mandated, and this is one of those systems you wish you never have to use, but when the time comes when it saves you from a collision, you’ll be thankful it had your back.

  • johnls39 .

    I say it is most useful in congested to slight heavy traffic. In light traffic conditions, I would cut it off.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    The last paragraph sums things up nicely.

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  • Amclaussen

    The thing that most people do not realice, is how modern cars have been relocating door mirrors farther and farther away from the driver’s face. Back in the 60’s, the usual design placed the left door rearview mirror much closer to the drivers eyes, which had the enormous advantage that the much closer mirror automatically gave a much wider field of view, along with a larger actual magnification. As years passed, more streamlined car bodies and much more inclined windshields, together with the “nice” but non-optimal placement of the mirror at the corner of the windshield and door window low edge, placed the mirror way more forward; and even when mirrors got quite larger, their placement actually reduced their angle of view and actual magnification. I would happily return to pedestal mounting of the door mirror at no more than 16″ from my face, and not mounted more to the front. Amclaussen.

  • Henry Ho

    They suck. I’ve tried it, and sometimes the split second lag already renders it useless.

  • Amclaussen

    Good observation, Henry!
    This is caused by a Phenomena called “Latency”, which is a result of slow image processing by the camera circuit, caused by poorly designed and overly cheap circuit components. As you correctly pointed out: if the camera and display circuit id too slow, the damn gadget is useless. This is what mediocre engineers produce by the currently used system of sub-contracting engineering and electronics production to the cheapest vendor available: that fabricates a product that fails to work properly IN REAL LIFE APPLICATIONS, or is “fast-tracked” to be issued in record time in order to meet some ignorantly defined “deadline”, without realistic testing. Then, the buyer becomes completely disenchanted by the product, and concludes that “all of them are useless”.
    The final conclusión would then be: “Present time devices are too slow to be of some use, and need to be re-engineered” to present “real-time” imaging… Otherwise, they are useless. Amclaussen.

  • Henry Ho

    I was actually referring to the radar-based system, not the video ones like Honda’s.

    The radar-based system usually only has 1 light/led on the side mirror or a pillar signaling there’s something detected in the blind spot. There were times where a vehicle passes by very quickly on the left and the blind spot light did not even blink. This is one of the issues that draw me away from relying on it. I even turned it off at my parent’s Audi.

    As for the video based system like Honda, I found them totally useless at night when all you see are bulbs of bright lights but the driver really cannot gauge what they are and where they are with no background as reference unlike in the day.

  • Amclaussen

    It still is the same thing: too much latency, Radar or Image or Ultrasonic. Most probably, present day systems were not properly designed,nor carefully calibrated. Most video systems are based on cheap, widely available devices originally designed for cell phones and run of the mill computer cameras with low resolution and very limited optical and electronic characteristics. The temptation to use the cheapest components spoil these designs. Only demanding consumers complaining could force manufacturers to improve this. But costs will continue to be an obstacle.