How Can Blind Spots Hide Deadly Hazards?Auto Accidents
For new drivers, few concepts feel more disconcerting than the notion of a blind spot. The idea that you may not see another vehicle next to yours even in broad daylight, and that another driver might not see you, seems to defy common sense. As humans, we have an effective primal instinct for knowing when someone walks up behind us. It feels strange that wrapping ourselves in the protective cage of a car or truck should shut off that sense of danger and spatial awareness, but it does.
As time passes, and we get more familiar with driving, we come to accept the reality of blind spots. However, most of us never feel completely comfortable with them, and they never cease to pose a real, constant, and extreme danger to our safety on the road.
In this blog post, we take a deep dive into the topic of blind spots: where they are, what makes them so dangerous, how to manage them, and what to do if a blind spot accident harms you or a loved one. Read on to learn more.
Where and How Your Vehicle Blinds You
To start, a blind spot is any area around your vehicle that you cannot see while looking straight ahead or using your mirrors, but which you may see if you turn your head.
Blind spots arise from two factors. First, rear-view and side-mirrors reflect a limited field of view defined by their size, shape, and curvature. Anything outside that field of view is, in effect, invisible to the driver looking in the mirror. Second, a vehicle’s components (the vehicle frame, roof, hood, trunk, or trailer) and contents (passengers, seats, and cargo) can block a driver’s view, blinding the driver to whatever is behind those components or contents.
Generally speaking, most cars and trucks have blind spots:
- Directly in front of the front bumper;
- Directly behind the back bumper;
- Behind the posts between the windshield and side windows;
- On the driver’s side in a roughly triangle-shaped space extending from the driver’s shoulder backward along at least the length of the vehicle to a width of about one vehicle lane; and
- On the passenger’s side in a roughly triangle-shaped space extending from the front bumper backward along at least the length of the vehicle to a width of at least one vehicle lane (and sometimes two lanes).
The dimensions of a vehicle’s blind spots depend on:
- The size, shape, height, and contents (including passengers) of the vehicle;
- Weather and other road-environmental conditions; and
- The height, visual acuity, and level of alertness of the vehicle’s driver.
In other words, every vehicle has blind spots, but the location, depth, and breadth of those blind spots can vary widely. As detailed in this informative article from Consumer Reports, even identical vehicles can have different blind spots because of differences between the vehicles’ drivers.
How Blind Spots Put You in Danger
Blind spots endanger drivers and passengers in numerous ways.
You Can’t See What’s Around You, and Other Drivers Can’t See You
Most obviously, blind spots put you and your passengers in danger by blinding you to vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and other road hazards hiding in them, and by making your vehicle potentially invisible to other drivers. Drivers who do not see hazards in their blind spots risk making driving decisions that cause a collision.
Common blind spot accident scenarios include:
- Sideswipe collisions between vehicles when a driver changes lanes or merges without seeing a vehicle in his blind spot;
- T-bone collisions when a car or truck turns into the path of a faster-moving vehicle trying to pass in its blind spot;
- Underride accidents when semi-trucks change lanes next to smaller vehicles and, in effect, trap the smaller vehicle under their trailers;
- Motor vehicle collisions with pedestrians crossing the street in a driver’s windshield-post blind spot; and
- Motor vehicles backing-up and running over adults, children, animals, or objects hiding in their rear blind spots.
You Have to Guess at Their Size and Shape
Drivers also have to guess at the size and shape of the blind spots of other vehicles to gauge what constitutes a safe distance or location when driving near them. If drivers guess wrong, then they may inadvertently put themselves and others in danger of an accident.
One common example of the hazards involved in uncertainty about the size and shape of a blind spot involves sharing the road with a station wagon or SUV stuffed full of boxes or luggage, like you might see when families take off on a vacation road trip, or when college students move in and out of their dorms. From afar, you might expect the driver of that vehicle to see you as you approach to pass, only to realize (hopefully, not too late) that the contents of the vehicle completely block the driver’s sightlines, making you invisible.
A similar driving conundrum arises when sharing the road with a flatbed truck carrying irregularly-shaped cargo. As in the stuffed-full car example, you can only guess how the odd dimensions of the cargo on the truck bed might blind the truck driver to your presence nearby.
Finally, because the physical characteristics and perceptive abilities of drivers themselves can affect the size and shape of a blind spot, as a driver you can never have 100 percent certainty that another driver sees you. That other driver’s poor vision, fatigue, or small stature could make your vehicle invisible.
To Check Your Blind Spots, You Have to Take Your Eyes off the Road
Another danger caused by blind spots arises from the fact that, as a driver, you cannot check for hazards hiding in them without taking your eyes off the road. In other words, blind spot management more-or-less forces you to engage in a form of distracted driving by turning your head or focusing on your mirrors.
Driver distraction—including the visual distraction that occurs whenever you take your eyes off the road ahead to focus on something else—constitutes a major contributing factor in car accidents. At highway speeds, your car can cover nearly 100 yards in the few seconds you are looking away from the road while clearing your blind spots, shrinking the amount of time you have to react to a sudden road hazard.
Most of the time, the trade-off of risks between making sure no one is in your blind spot, versus paying attention to the road ahead, works in your favor. However, that’s not always the case.
Surprise and Overcorrection
Drivers who check their blind spots confront yet another danger: what they will do if they spot a vehicle in their blind spot that they did not expect to see, or if they see an unexpected road hazard approaching when they return their eyes to the road ahead.
Many drivers, no matter their level of experience, struggle to remain calm and collected in those stressful moments. Instead, they react by jerking their steering wheels a little too hard, or stepping on the brakes more aggressively than they should. These overcorrections can also put drivers and their passengers at risk for a potentially deadly accident by causing them to lose control or to veer out of their lanes.
Effective Blind Spot Management
Safely confronting the dangers of blind spots requires practice, alertness, and a healthy dose of caution. A little technological assistance can’t hurt either.
Practice Makes Better, Not Perfect
As with any human endeavor, the first step toward staying safe behind the wheel while contending with blind spots consists simply of gaining experience. As we said at the beginning of this post, new drivers tend to struggle a lot with blind-spot safety. By spending hours on the road in a particular vehicle, however, you can hone the habit of checking your blind spot and sensing the driving scenarios in which you need to pay extra attention to the potential for blind spot risks.
Does practice make perfect? Not exactly. Scientists have reportedly debunked the popular notion that 10,000 hours of doing anything makes you an expert. Even if you get really good at sensing blind spots, the roads have a way of offering up an infinite combination of variables to challenge your skills.
For these reasons, no matter how long you’ve been driving, and no matter how comfortable you feel behind the wheel, never assume that you know exactly where your or other drivers’ blind spots are. Small variations in vehicles, drivers, and road conditions can place large demands on your blind spot management, so always pay attention.
Stay Alert and Aware About Traffic and Road Conditions
Soldiers and pro-quarterbacks have a saying: head on a swivel. It’s a short reminder to stay alert and aware of your surroundings, and to never let your guard down.
Unlike troops and athletes, of course, drivers should not necessarily keep their heads swiveling to watch out for potential hazards. You need to keep your eyes focused forward as much as possible.
Still, the adage holds true. As a driver, you must always try your best to remain alert and aware of the numerous factors that affect your safety behind the wheel. Among the most important of those factors when it comes to blind spot management: traffic and road conditions.
We tend to think of checking blind spots as a one-off exercise. It comes from the sequential way we’re taught driving safety. First, you form the decision to change lanes. Next, you turn on your signal. Then, you check your blind spot. Finally, you change lanes.
For the most part, that sequence is correct. However, effective blind spot management requires that you avoid getting taken by surprise when you see a vehicle in your blind spot, and that you not take other drivers by surprise by driving your vehicle in their blind zones.
You accomplish this by keeping constant tabs on other vehicles and driving conditions, such as:
- The density of traffic behind, ahead, and around you;
- Stretches of the road ahead where you expect traffic conditions to change;
- The presence of trucks on the road with you; and
- Vehicles that you could easily lose track of if you do not pay extra attention, like motorcycles, cars that blend into the background because of their color or lack of headlights.
By staying on constant alert and aware of the evolving traffic conditions around your vehicle, you minimize the risk of getting caught off guard when you check your blind spot and of surprising other drivers when you appear in their blind spots.
Make Caution Your Default Setting
Consumer electronics, appliances, and even your car arrive from the factory-tuned to default settings for ordinary operation. Default settings often promote the safest, most in-control, most predictable mode of using a product.
As a driver, you, too, should have a default setting when it comes to blind spots: CAUTION. To stay safe and avoid blind spot accidents, always assume that there is another vehicle in your blind spot, and then do whatever is necessary to prove otherwise to yourself. Similarly, always assume that other drivers cannot see you or your vehicle, and then take the steps required to convince yourself that they do see you after all.
Driver’s-ed instructors might refer to this mindset as “defensive driving.” We tend to think of it more like skeptical driving. By assuming the presence of danger and then forcing yourself to overcome that assumption with evidence, you adopt safe habits that protect you from disaster.
Some of those habits might include:
- Insisting on seeing a truck driver’s face in his mirrors to ensure you do not drive in his blind spot;
- Making eye contact with a pedestrian or cyclist waiting to cross the street in front of your car;
- Getting out and checking behind your car before you back out of the driveway;
- Never setting out on a trip with obstructions in your car that block your view.
Technology Can Help
Advances in anti-blind spot technology can also keep you safe on the road.
- Radar or camera-based warning systems that alert you to the presence of vehicles in your blind spots;
- Front and rear-facing bumper cameras that allow you to see the area immediately in front of and behind your vehicle; and
- A prize-winning system invented by a teenager to eliminate windshield post blind spots.
Technology, however, does not solve all blind spot problems. Drivers must also follow the other guidance above to keep themselves and their passengers safe.
After a Blind Spot Accident
Even the best drivers and the most sophisticated technologies cannot eliminate the risk of blind spot accidents.
If you’re in such an accident, then keeping these two tips in mind can protect your health, wellbeing, and legal rights.
- Get to a doctor immediately. Seek medical care even if you feel ok after a blind spot-related accident. Some deadly accident injuries do not show symptoms immediately, but need treatment right away. Visiting a doctor also ensures the existence of medical records that document a connection between the accident and any injury the doctor finds, which can help protect your legal rights.
- Contact a skilled car accident injury attorney. You may have valuable legal rights to compensation for your injuries and losses if you act quickly. Some drivers place blame on themselves for blind spot accidents, thinking that they could have done something differently to avoid a crash, but don’t rely on that assumption. Instead, leave it to an experienced attorney to evaluate your rights and help you determine whether you qualify to pursue compensation for your injuries.