Should Cameras Replace Your Sideview Mirrors?

Traveling by car along beautiful coast at night. Reflection of sunset at side mirror.
Posted: March 29, 2024

With new technology comes seemingly overnight change in facets of life, industry, and culture that for many years had remained the same. 


Consider motor vehicle mirrors. According to some sources, the first sideview mirror can be traced to 1911, when Ray Harroun attached one to his Marmon Wasp before racing in the Indianapolis 500. Rearview mirrors came next.  In addition to—and, by most statistical indications, improving on—the rearview mirror, is today’s backup camera, which the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began requiring on all new cars less than 10,000 pounds in 2018, only yesterday in the evolution of cars. And before long we’ll likely see a push for sideview cameras to take the place of side mirrors.  


Exactly when that will happen is anybody’s guess—advances in technology tend to sneak up on us like cars in our blind spot—but the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is on the case. In 2019, the agency began testing and soliciting public comments on how drivers could use cameras in place of mirrors, and industry experts believe their advent is no longer a matter of whether but of when. 


A policy left turn 

Advances in technology invariably raise questions, and there have been a lot of such advances in vehicles, as cars’ growing list of safety features shows.  Is adaptive cruise control safe? Will automated cars lull us into dangerous inattention? How do I turn off this lane-correction feature?  


Soon we might be left to ponder whether it’s a good thing that cameras have replaced sideview mirrors.  


If they’re anything like backup cameras, which have lowered the number of deaths from, as well as the risk of, back-over accidents, the answer would seem to be yes—once they’re widely in use.  When the NHTSA mandated   backup cameras in all new light vehicles, turning their initially staggered introduction into a sweeping safety measure, the agency predicted the new measure would save lives. Although the data so far is limited, that prediction wasn’t far-fetched; backup cameras have made people safer—especially children. 


A fatal flaw 

For all their longevity, and despite NHTSA standards designed to optimize their field of view, rearview mirrors are not perfect.  More than 200 deaths and 15,000 back-over injuries happen every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  


Backup cameras, whose field of vision has panoramic sweep and also shows the ground right behind a vehicle, can improve blind-zone visibility by an average of 46 percent, according to the American Automobile Association–36 percent in smaller cars and 75 percent in hatchbacks. In some vehicles, backup cameras expand the driver’s rear field of vision by as much as 90 percent, according to some sources. 


Cutting-edge technology 

While cameras aren’t new technology, the backup variety now standard on all new passenger vehicles is in some respects cutting-edge. According to some sources, the backup camera’s most consequential innovation might be its ability to provide a mirror image so that drivers don’t see scenes reversed and steer left when they mean to go right. 


Sideview cameras, too, can provide a mirror image, but one reason automakers and designers love them is they have a much smaller profile than side mirrors and so could make cars sleeker, quieter, more aerodynamic, and more fuel-efficient. Because sideview cameras reduce drag, the idea of using them in place of sideview mirrors is nothing new; fuel economy is money and, as such, has driven the automotive industry’s interest in sideview cameras for years—more so than safety considerations. The NHTSA, while analyzing a prototype side camera monitor system, noted that “the size of the camera, and therefore the impact on aerodynamics, is much smaller than typical outside mirrors.”  


That sideview cameras reduce drag is evident in comparisons of European and U.S. cars; while the European-spec E-Tron with its little sideview cameras mounted on thin stalks has a 0.27 drag coefficient, the American-spec model with its conventional side mirrors checks in at 0.28. 


Reduced risk 

Lane-change crashes are defined by the NHTSA as those which happen when one vehicle edges or turns into the path of another after the two have been traveling in the same direction on parallel or gradually convergent paths.  


Such crashes occur when a car or cars are changing lanes, merging, passing, drifting, turning, or leaving or entering a parking spot, according to the NHTSA. There are seven kinds of pre-crash scenarios that lead to lane-change collisions, according to an NHTSA Analysis of Lane Change Crashes. The top three are 

  • “Typical” lane changes: One of two vehicles traveling parallel changes lanes and collides with the other—a scenario that accounted for more than 38 percent of lane-change crashes in the NHTSA study.  
  • Turns at intersections: One of two vehicles traveling parallel turns across the path of the other at an intersection (16 percent).  
  • Lane-drifting: One of two vehicles traveling parallel as they both turn left or right drifts into the path of the other (12 percent).  

Minimizing lane changes 

Because lane changes are a common cause of accidents, New York urges drivers to undertake them only when necessary and to be careful when they do undertake such a maneuver. “A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane,” New York State law says, “until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”   


New York also says motorists must signal their intention to change lanes at least 100 feet before doing so—failure to comply is a two-point offense—and that all motor vehicles driven on public highways must be equipped with at least one exterior mirror or “similar reflecting device.”  


Drivers operating vehicles without a side mirror or mirrors could be ticketed for driving an unsafe vehicle.  


Those who check their mirrors before changing lanes are generally less likely to be involved in crashes. While drivers don’t necessarily need to check mirrors every two seconds, it is important to be mindful of surrounding traffic. Sideview mirrors don’t show a lot, but what they do show is vitally important: the no-man’s land between what you can see in the rearview mirror and what you can see with your peripheral vision.  



Who will get side cameras first?  

The potentially greater benefits of sideview cameras, along with the automakers’ petition, prompted the NHTSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a call for public comment in August 2019. NHTSA received 23 public comments. Then, in May 2021, the NHTSA issued a second Federal Register Notice and received 1,891 public comments.  


When the agency approves replacing side mirrors with cameras, the first U.S. vehicles likely to get them likely will be pickups and SUVs with outsized mirrors for towing. 


Will drivers perform better with side cameras where their mirrors used to be? The expectation is that they will because they’ll have a greater field of vision. But how much better drivers perform could depend on where camera images are displayed. 


Sideview cameras, like backup cameras, won’t be perfect—at least not at first. They may have some performance issues, including image distortion. Also of concern is how drivers will cope with adjusting to the location of the screens, which could vary from one car model to the next. For example, while some automakers may embed displays on door handles, others may locate them at the corners of the dashboard.  


Hurt in a car? Call William Mattar.  

No matter how hard you try to avoid being in a car accident, someone might ruin your day by driving irresponsibly. If you are injured in a car crash, call us at 844-noswap444-4444 and let the experienced car accident lawyers at William Mattar, P.C. help you advocate for your maximum compensation. For a free case review, fill out this online form to schedule a consultation. 

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