Before autonomous vehicles take over and we can slap on an eyemask during our commute, we’re responsible for our own safety on the road. So, for now, we must signal, brake defensively, and yes, shoulder check. Well, we should do those things anyway. But plenty of drivers don’t bother looking over their shoulder, or even using their sideview mirrors, when lane changing. So, the sooner automakers come up with design and technology to reduce the danger of blind spots, the better.
However, just because we don’t have fully autonomous vehicles yet, doesn’t mean that technology can’t improve things like blind spots.
Toyota’s Cloaking Device
For example, Toyota is developing transparent A-pillars. If you don’t know, A-pillars are the columns supporting your roof in between the driver/front passenger window and the windshield. And Toyota plans to get them out of your sight line, but not by simply using a transparent material. Instead, they’ll feature a cloaking device. I’m not exaggerating, and I didn’t pull the term “cloaking device” out of the air. Toyota use it themselves:
“Each of the cloaking region boundary planes have an outward facing mirror surface and an inward facing opaque surface. The cloaking device includes a cloaking region bounded at least partially by the cloaking surface boundary planes.”
What does that mean? Well, basically, Toyota’s A-pillars will built with a combination of curved mirrors and see-through panels. With the right angle and arrangement of mirrors, they can reflect an image from the outside of the vehicle to the inside. If successful, the result would give drivers the illusion of completely invisible A-pillars, greatly enhancing visibility and reducing blind spots.
Blind Spot Detection
But Toyota’s tech, if it ever hits the market, is years away. And other manufacturers are offering things that can help kill blind spots right now. For example, most automakers in North America offer some sort of detection system for blind spots. Systems, like Ford BLIS or GM Side Blind Zone Alert, alert drivers when vehicles are occupying space in one of their blind spots.
And according to a recent IIHS study, systems that monitor blind spots are making the road safer:
Results of the new study indicate that lane departure warning lowers rates of single-vehicle, sideswipe and head-on crashes of all severities by 11 percent and lowers the rates of injury crashes of the same types by 21 percent. That means that if all passenger vehicles had been equipped with lane departure warning, nearly 85,000 police-reported crashes and more than 55,000 injuries would have been prevented in 2015.
Of course, I imagine a dedication to conscientious, attentive driving could produce similar results.
Cadillac, meanwhile is trying to make blind spot monitors superfluous with a more elegant solution. The brand’s Rear Camera Mirror replaces the traditional, and highly limited rearview mirror using a series of cameras. When drivers look at the Rear Camera Mirror, they don’t see a reflection, they see a live, HD image of the road behind. The Rear Camera Mirror drivers a 300% greater field of vision than a traditional rearview mirror. As of right now, the Rear Camera Mirror is only an optional feature, but we may see it appearing in more GM vehicles in the near future.
The only remaining question is what will first achieve ubiquity: technology to remove blind spots for drivers, or technology to remove drivers entirely. Whatever the answer, our roads are bound to become much safer.