Another shanda fur die wingerin

This is the kind of thing that makes sensible people tear their hair about government.  Thinking about bureaucrats in DOT taking three years to make a decision worth maybe half a day, having spent a couple of decades to even engage the question, through all of which millions of drivers outside the US have been running an enormous demonstration program showing the superiority of convex driver’s-side mirrors, can make a libertarian’s day.  It reminds me of the years during which the US had the worst headlights in the world because standardized sealed-beam lamps had been ossified in regulation forty years before (when, admittedly, they were the solution to a real problem).  [Fairness requires that I give a hat tip to a regulatory success, the relatively quick implementation of the third brake light, which IIRC had a benefit-cost ratio in the thousands.]

There’s more to the convex mirror than the Times story records.  Not only is the field of view wide enough to cover the left-hand blind spot, but a convex mirror doesn’t have to be dimmed to prevent cars behind you from blinding you at night.  Now, if we could get them in the right place, which is on the fender, visible through the dashboard so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to be aware of what’s going on behind you, we’ll be making some real progress.  For this location, they have to be convex, because at that distance, the field of view of a flat mirror is much too narrow.  I’ve had convex fender mirrors (very hard to find, and it’s a nuisance to make a flat panel to replace the stock abortions on the doors) for twenty years and would never go back. I suppose I’m courting a ticket, but so far, no problems.  Oh yeah, a convex clipon interior rearview mirror is another no-brainer; you can see more and you don’t have to flip it back and forth between night and day settings.

Finally, convex mirrors are much more tolerant of drivers’ head position; drivers of any legal size can use the same setting for fender-mounted and interior convex mirrors, so once you get them located, they are much less likely to surprise you by showing you the wrong scenery after someone else has been using the car.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

12 thoughts on “Another shanda fur die wingerin”

  1. I remember visiting Japan twenty-some years ago as a child and seeing cars with side-view mirrors far forward along the side of the hood. Never had the opportunity to try driving with such, though.

  2. I had a convex clip-on rearview in my first car, and it was awesome. For some reason, I've had a hell of a time finding them in recent years and I've never completely gotten over not having one. No idea why they're not more common.

  3. I had a convex clip-on and it was superb.

    Consider this other automobile feature: The mandated, central rear brake light was adopted after it was found that New York Taxi cabs, so configured, had fewer collisions. That, of course, was not a good measure of overall effectiveness. For many of us, the ability to see through an automobile to gauge the traffic ahead was sharply curtailed when these overly-bright lights were (typically) installed inside the passenger compartment. A better configuration would have been, less flashy and lower down in the rear frame or trunk (which is more common nowadays). But a less gaudy light that allowed you to also see through the automobile was not mandated. Why?

    We cater to the lowest common denominator in society. Those drivers who are not adept at judging traffic well ahead (via see-through) apparently need a big honking red light to inform them that the car immediately ahead is slowing. So we got that, despite it's shortcomings.

    It wouldn't surprise me if some drivers are unable to handle the complexity of the driver-side convex mirror. So why bother putting one there, even if Mike O'Hare and many others can make good use of it?

  4. Of course, if Americans had a clue about how to aim mirrors, this would be less of an issue. The only time I have to re-aim my mirrors is when I get into a rental car, and the mirrors in said cars always are aimed such that I get a great view of the side of the car and not much of a view of the next lane of travel on either side. Even the right-hand mirror (which is convex) needs severe re-aiming to show me a useful view, so I'm not sure that convex left-hand mirrors will improve matters much for the average driver; they'll probably aim it so they have an even better view of the side of the car…

  5. Quiddity: (1) Those were LA cabs, I think (2) the 3rd stop light is high precisely so you can see it through an intervening car; in addition to avoiding subconscious confusion with taillights by being in the center, placed up high it gives you one or more additional carlength warning of braking happening up ahead.

  6. Wing mirrors are obsolete. They account for a substantial amount (3-6%) of a car's aerodynamic drag, and cause accidents to two-wheelers. The field of vision problem is insoluble. The solution is TV, as proposed here. Cameras and displays get cheaper all the time.

    Expect to see this in Formula 1 first. The latest Airbuses have them. Commenter Robert G claims here that the NTSB has recommended them as standard on commercial aircraft, but I couldn't find a link.

  7. Re being blinded by high beams: Whenever that happens, I reorient the rear-view mirror to shine back through the rear window. Works like a charm.

  8. Michael: (1) I'm pretty sure it was New York cabs that were tested, way back when. I followed that issue closely because I did not like the way the third-light was implemented. (2) My complaint is not the central light as such, but that it's often too big or bright to allow for effective see-through to the car(s) in front of the vehicle directly ahead of you. (3) My final sentence was not meant to dismiss your claim. I support your view on the mirrors. My point was that we often cater to less skilled drivers. (Somewhat related: Remember when there were those automatic seat belts that, if conditions were "right", could strangle you if your head was outside the window and the door accidentally opened?)

  9. I think your ire may be misdirected. You really want to put the three-year delay on the bureaucrats? I've had the unfortunate experience of spending a summer in the policy office of a certain DOT agency that will remain nameless. My sense was that the most minute, simple, and technical things were needlessly politicized, particularly if money was at stake — and is it ever not? God help you if the flat mirror factories are all in a state that also sports a senator on the Transportation Committee and the convex mirrors all come from China.

  10. I disagree with the add-on mirror. For those people who are tall, the rear view mirror is already obstructing enough of the view, and in many cars is perfectly situated to obscure a vehicle at a stop sign to the right (at a single-lane 4-way stop). A larger mirror would just exasperate the problem.

    There are never one-size-fits-all solutions.

    Perhaps a solution would be a smaller, but concave, mirror by default.

  11. For those of us who already have back-up cameras, the advantages of having a view from a point on an edge of the car instead of right next to the driver's position have become really obvious.

  12. You don't recall correctly. Third brake lights had NO lasting effect on the rear-end collision rate. They were a complete waste of money and effort mandated by bureaucrats and junior safety nazis trying to justify their jobs by imposing a rule. Said dimwits found out that third brake lights seemed to reduce rear-end collisions with a small test fleet of Postal Service vehicles. As any psychologist could have explained, the jeeps in the test fleet had increased salience to following drivers because they were unusual– unlike most cars then, they had 3 brake lights! Once mandated, third brake lights entered the general fleet with new cars. As ordinary turnover increased the percentage of cars having 3 brake lights, third brake lights ceased to attract extra attention and rear-end collision rates returned to trend.

    If I were the kind of doofus who advocates extra-brake-light regulations, I could easily do a study _now_ to "prove" that adding a fourth brake light would reduce rear-end collisions! I just wish I could find a way to make money on the sure bet that as soon as any significant number of cars boasted another extra brake light, the supposed protective benefits of same would evaporate.

    NB: Mandating the _second_ brake light did make sense: with just one, the risk that a failed light bulb would deprive following drivers of the brake-light signal was very great. Also, it's much harder for part of a load, smoke, or a bad viewing angle to obscure two brake lights than one.

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