Watch for COPS Method of Defensive Driving (part 2)

February 12, 2010

Side View MirrorIn Part 1 of this series on defensive driving I introduced you to my Watch for COPS method.  Not only is it the best way to avoid a ticket, its also the correct way to remain alert and avoid an accident.   Now, I'd like to discuss proper mirrors.A proper mirror seems kind of obvious, doesnt it? Heck, if you can see backwards, what more do you need?I've always liked the side mirrors on my Porsche cars. They're big, which flies in the face of most sports car makers. I did'nt realize just how nice big mirrors are until I got a BMW M3 fitted with tiny little aerodynamic pods with a couple of compact mirrors inside. They look fantastic, but they aren't worth a darn for seeing anything behind you.Actually, I guess we can thank BMW for my mirror education.  It was BMW's inept ability to build a proper sports car mirror that caused me to search for new solutions.Proper mirrors give you full rear view coverage. You should be able to look in your rear view mirror and see the full width of the rear of your car and slightly to the sides. A good rear view mirror will provide 90 to 110 degrees of visibility. Anything less and youre driving blind. Likewise, the side view mirrors should provide 45 to 60 degrees of visibility off the sides of your car. The goal is to have as close to 180 degrees of rear view as possible.One of the ways you can improve your rear view visibility is to add one or more blind spot mirrors or replace your rear view mirror with a larger mirror or a convex mirror.  These days, the later solution is more difficult because some engineering whiz kid came up with the bright idea to put electronics in mirrors.  What were they thinking?A few years back (okay, it was ten years ago!) I discovered a little jewel called the Autobahn Mirror. Its a drivers side blind spot mirror that attaches to the windshield (inside) at the same level as the driver's side mirror. When correctly adjusted, the Autobahn Mirror gives the driver full view of any vehicle along side in the blind spot. The benefit is that you can adjust your regular mirror farther out, and you don't have to take your eyes off the road to look to your side.Proper Mirror AdjustmentThe positioning for the inside rear view mirror is mostly obvious. Simply align it so you have a clear view out of the rear window. I like to align mine a little off center to the right. This helps to pick up the right hand blind spot on most vehicles. Also, if it's not automatic, be sure the day/night switch or lever is in the correct position.Most people adjust their side view mirrors so they can see the side of the car on the inside edge of the mirror. This is incorrect. You know where the side of your car is, so why do you need to see it? Pulling the side view mirrors in too far limits your rear visibility and greatly overlaps what you can see through your rear view mirror.The proper setting for side view mirrors is to adjust them slightly beyond the point where you can see the side of the car on the inside edge of the mirror. Positioned in this way, you can see more and you remove one of your critical blind spots.When a vehicle is present that isn't visible when checking your side view mirrors, the front of the neighboring vehicle will likely be adjacent to your door. If you have a good rear view mirror or really good peripheral vision, you will be able to spot it. If not, you will need to turn your head to the side or get a blind spot mirror.One of the things I find most dangerous about having to turn my head to check for cars along side me is that my arms tend to follow. This wasn't a problem in my dads 1972 Oldsmobile 98, but in a sports car it can be pretty dangerous. Sometimes if I sneeze hard I find myself in another lane. Woops! With well-positioned mirrors, your head won't have to turn as far to check for blind spots.One of the significant benefits I've discovered with adjusting my side view mirrors wide is that merging into traffic is much easier. Likewise, as I pass on-ramps it's easier to watch for COPS or anything else that might be coming out to get me.In Part 3 of this series, we're going to pull everything together and go over proper mirror use.  Until then, Watch for COPS!-----------------David Bynon is an automotive industry blogger, online community builder, computer science author, and co-author of multiple patents for car care products.  Founder and former owner of the Autopia forum, Bynon loves finely detailed vehicles of all makes and vintage.  You can tune-in to his blog at or follow him on

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