MANY times, many of us take mirrors for granted. In fact, some people think they (mirrors) are just meant to make the vehicle look cool! There are some complaints that car makers only care about the appealing nature of their products rather than the real issues that matter like the driver’s ability to see outside the vehicle. That is why many of today’s design elements appear to compromise rather than improve the driver’s visibility.
So, does this mean vehicle makers are negligent in their designing duties? Well, let’s look at what is driving today’s car maker’s general visibility.
Are the mirrors in today’s cars too small to serve their purpose? Well, there are some complaints to that effect, particularly that many of them are too small. Car makers take into account wind (the drag) resistance, fuel economy and many other elements, ignoring the size of the mirrors. Part of the problem comes from drivers not properly adjusting their mirrors – many show too much of the side of their vehicles and not enough of the road. The proper way of adjustment makes it so safe because the driver sees a wider section of the road through the mirror as compared to those that want to see their own vehicles or even their passengers while driving.
Huge head restraints (headrests)
Large head restraints – particularly in the rear row of a vehicle – can be significant obstacles to rear visibility. But there’s a reason for this. Modern headrests are intentionally designed to be large, in some cases very large to reduce head and neck injuries. And it’s succeeding. Headrests of the past were too small, specifically too short, causing the head to travel too far during a collision, risking head, neck and even brain injury. Thankfully, the size has now been enhanced in conformity to the modern driving ergonomics.
There are also a number of complaints about small window sizing. Here again, often times we’re dealing with trade-offs: structural integrity versus visibility. Daniel Johnston, director of product communications at Volvo America, points out that “designers must take into account the ability of a car to protect occupants during a roll-over.” In other words, larger pillars, which increase structural integrity, reduce visibility but make the car stronger.
Slanting and curved Wind shields
In a related topic, many of our forum participants have complained about oversized pillars in newer models, especially the A-pillars (the pillars immediately forward of the front occupants) in hybrids and fuel-efficient models, which they claim block front visibility. Even such perennial favourites as the Honda Civic and Toyota Prius have recently come under some form of attack in this area. Simple: they’re intentionally swept back to increase aerodynamics and reduce drag, thereby increasing fuel economy. If designers straighten the pillars, the car loses its high-mpg rating, which is a major selling point in today’s market.
Night-time vision is a whole issue in itself, led by concerns about High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps (also known as xenon headlamps). Those intense bluish headlights coming toward you like a UFO? Once again, it’s a plus and minus equation. While the new headlamps improve visibility and increase safety for the occupants of the vehicles that have them, they often do the exact opposite for oncoming drivers; many motorists complain that these headlamps hurt their eyes and even temporarily blind them. And the problem will likely only get worse, as the technology becomes less expensive and appears in more and more cars. This could end up becoming a “tit for tat” issue! It is very good practice to have your lights adjusted periodically. There are specialized machines that perform “headlamp alignment”, and this can be done in a few minutes.