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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.