Improve Your Situational Awareness: the Secret Art of Sideview Mirrors

Image courtesy of Guodong Guo

Image courtesy of Guodong Guo

If you spend any time on the 101 freeway through Los Angeles you know that “situational awareness” is your key to survival. And your sideview mirrors are the key to knowing what is going on around you at all times as you drive.

But most people don’t have their sideview mirrors adjusted correctly. The technique I learned in Driver’s Ed back in the day is precisely the wrong way to adjust your sideview mirrors – with a little slice of your rear fender visible in the mirror. If you can see any part of your own car then you are leaving a blind spot to your right or left.

Here’s a better way to adjust your rearview mirrors (it seems almost too obvious to mention and yet…):

  1. Make sure the rearview mirror inside the car pointed straight back, giving you a full view of the road.
  2. Starting with the left sideview mirror, adjust the mirror so that you can see a bit of your rear fender. Then adjust it out slightly so that you can see any car moving up on you in the lane to your left. As a car moves out of view in your rearview mirror it should enter the view of your sideview mirror.
  3. Let the car fully overtake you in the left lane. It should be visible in your sideview mirror from the time it starts moving out of your rearview field of vision and until you can see it out of the corner of your eye. In other words you should always 360 degree view without moving your head.
  4. Repeat with the right sideview mirror.
  5. It’s probably not safe to do this while you’re driving so  try the head-leaning tip from the Automobile Association of America.

Now go forth and enjoy your new situational awareness.

Image and a good explanation of sideview mirror adjustment by Guodong Guo.