Blind spots in cars could eventually be a thing of the past

Blind spots in cars could eventually be a thing of the past

Blind spots could be a thing of the past, if only replacing car mirrors with the latest technology were legal. Last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, BMW showed off a prototype vehicle where the rearview and side mirrors were replaced by cameras, which the automaker says give drivers a more complete picture of what’s happening behind them.

Video footage from three cameras — one on the rear windshield and two replacing the traditional side mirrors — is pieced together onto a broad video screen that replaces the traditional rearview mirror.

It’s the latest example of automakers’ interest in reinventing the mirrors in vehicles to provide better visibility for drivers and a more aerodynamic, fuel-efficient design.

Experiments with new formats of mirrors are nothing new. In 1969, researchers working on behalf of the federal government outfitted a Chevrolet Impala convertible with a six-foot-wide mirror that gave drivers an unobstructed rear view. It worked on the convertible because there are no rear beams to block the driver’s rear sight lines. But it was never taken seriously by automakers because of huge styling and aerodynamic issues.

But things are a little different now.

“There’s no longer a strong barrier of technology or price,” Michael Flannagan, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, said of replacing mirrors with cameras. “The fact that so many backup cameras are in use has made the technology for vehicles mature very rapidly. It has set the stage for an even greater use.”

Flannagan said the most promising opportunity to improve safety is similar to what BMW is doing, in which drivers are given a unified field of view. They would no longer have to turn their heads to the left or right to look at outside mirrors.

“The key safety thing is eyes should be directly in front of you, straight ahead almost all the time,” Flannagan said. “The more you can do that the better.”

But no research has been conducted yet showing that camera systems are safer than traditional mirrors.

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