Where’s Your Blind Spot?
According to official figures, around 1% of the road accidents that occur each year are caused by the driver having a blind spot, and as a result, approximately 25 people lose their lives. One of the major causes of blind spots is ironically enough related to a safety feature – windscreen pillars and door pillars that have tended to become wider on modern cars. The increase in size of the pillars has often come about in order to increase their strength and offer more protection in a collision, but that’s not the only reason. The other reason is to do with styling – modern car designers appear to favour designs with wide pillars, and they are sacrificing all-round visibility for cosmetic reasons.
Which?, the consumer magazine, recently published a review of 100 cars which they had assessed for blind spots and visibility, and the results were frankly astonishing. They assessed a 2009 version of the Vauxhall Astra, and found that the all-round visibility was far poorer than the 1997 version, as the rear door pillars caused a major blind spot which could mask cyclists and pedestrians. This not only puts that particularly vulnerable group of road users at risk, it also means that the three-quarter view to the rear is reduced which can make lane-changing and turning corners risky too, as this is the view that most drivers rely on for these manoeuvres.
The lack of an adequate rear view has also led to some models of vehicle being prohibited from use by learner drivers taking the driving test. Notable among these are the Mini and VW Beetle convertibles (in fact, most convertibles have a restricted view when the roof is up), the Ford StreetKa and the Toyota iQ among others.
With the advent of research into autonomous cars, some manufacturers are investigating camera use which will actually make the windscreen pillars and door pillars appear ‘invisible’, but the for the time being, most of us are stuck with the current technology.
Not all cars have poor visibility, and the Which? report did single out a few notable models that came out well in their their tests. These included the Smart ForTwo which demonstrated clear visibility due to it not having a ‘B-pillar’ (the pillar usually found between the driver’s door the rear passenger door). The Citroën Picasso models C3 and C4 were also found to be good as they have a split in the windscreen pillars which aids the driver’s view. The Fiat 500 was another car with good visibility, even though it does have a B-pillar. The VW Golf Plus and the Ford Galaxy also merited a mention as they have a higher driving position which aids visibility on these models.
Bottom of the heap was apparently the Porsche Boxster, which rated lowest for visibility when the roof was down, but did improve when the roof was open. It’s in good company, as a similar situation exists for the BMW Z4 and the Lexus IS 250C – it just goes to show that buying an expensive car doesn’t necessarily buy you total safety.