Blind-spot tracking mirrors could cut auto crashes

By Tom Krisher

Associated Press

DETROIT — For most drivers there’s a lingering doubt when changing lanes on the freeway: Did I miss a car in the blind spot?

Starting early next year, Ford Motor Co. will try to eliminate that doubt. It will begin installing side-view mirrors on its vehicles that show the blind spots in the outside upper corners.

The Dearborn-based automaker and several industry analysts say they know of no other automaker that currently offers such a feature, although some are considering it and auto parts stores sell small mirrors that focus on blind spots.


"Those blind spots, changing lanes, we’re always having some challenges seeing who’s there," said Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s global director of electrical and electronic systems.

Ford says it will put the mirrors on a few Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models to start, eventually making them standard across most of its lineup. It also will offer an optional radar-based blind spot warning system similar to those marketed by other automakers, but with the ability to scan parking lot aisles and warn of oncoming vehicles as a driver backs out of a space.

The additions come from research Ford did on customer wants and needs and is part of its campaign to be more customer focused, said spokesman Alan Hall. The new low-cost mirrors probably won’t add to the sticker price of a car or truck, he said.

Of 450 people who took part in Ford driving clinics, 76 percent thought the mirrors improved visibility, Buczkowski said.

Ford had to figure out a way to meet a federal standard requiring driver’s side mirrors to be flat, said spokesman Wes Sherwood.

Tom Libby, senior director of industry analysis for the Power Information Network, a division of J.D. Power and Associates, said he has seen many drivers with small convex blind-spot mirrors affixed to their side mirrors. Ford, he said, is capitalizing on that consumer demand.

"It may seem like a trivial thing," he said. "It’s obviously something in the direction of being customer-focused. I think that makes a lot of sense."

The new feature is almost essential as automakers shrink the glass area on the side of vehicles to create new, sleeker designs, said Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Irvine, Calif.-based Kelley Blue Book.


"The blind spot issue, I think, gets to be more and more an issue every day," Nerad said, adding that some new crossover vehicles have small third-row side windows that make the blind spots even tougher to see.

Plus, families on vacation often pack their vehicles with so much luggage that it blocks the view out the rear window, forcing drivers to rely totally on side-view mirrors, Nerad said.

People won’t buy a car or truck solely because of the new mirrors, but they are a feature that could help sway an undecided buyer, Libby said.

"I think it’s sort of a cumulative thing," he said. "It’s one more thing that would help. It’s a little thing, and those things add up."

The federal government doesn’t track crashes specifically caused by drivers failing to see other vehicles in their blind spots. The closest it can come is a category called "failure to keep in proper lane or running off road," said National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesman Eric Bolton. Those reasons were a factor for 16,470 drivers involved in fatal crashes during 2006, the latest year available, according to the NHTSA’s Web site.

In Michigan, state police recorded 27,294 collisions between vehicles heading the same direction in different lanes in 2006, about 9 percent of the total crashes in the state. In those, 12 people were killed and hundreds injured, said Lt. Gary Megge.

If all cars were equipped with the blind-spot mirrors, Megge said he is confident the number of crashes would be reduced.

"That tells me that potentially this could have an effect on nearly 9 percent of the traffic crashes in Michigan," he said. "People don’t just change lanes when they know somebody’s there. When these sideswipe same (direction) crashes occur, people don’t see the other car."


Ford isn’t alone in its pursuit of the new mirrors. General Motors Corp. and other automakers also are considering them, although GM hasn’t developed a timetable yet to put them in vehicles, said spokeswoman Angele Shaw.

"We have done some studies and we’re looking at where we’re going to use them," she said.

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