Ignorance is BLIS

Consumer Reports News: March 27, 2008 08:49 PM

I don't know about you, but I find red lights distracting, even if I only see them out of the corner of my eye. That's not a bad thing, nor is it a complaint. The reaction needs to be immediate, even instinctive, and this succeeds because we're trained from a very young age to associate red with danger.

That's why I find our Volvo XC70's Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) so annoying. For those of you who haven't used it, BLIS senses when a vehicle in the next lane is approaching or in the area you can't see in your side mirrors. It works on either side of the car, and a red warning light comes on near the mirror on the appropriate side to let you know you've got company.

All well and good, but the way I look at it, the fact that there's a car in the lane next to me does not necessarily constitute danger. In fact, where I live and commute, there's almost always a car in my blind spot, and most don't stay there long. Many of my fellow commuters prefer to travel at either double or half my speed, and some seem to like to alternate between the two. The result is my own little commuting light show, with lights blinking on and off on either side of the car all the way home. Now that's distraction.

Fortunately, there is a button to turn BLIS off. But when you do, a warning message lights up on the dash to tell you that it's off. Thanks, Volvo. I knew that. You see, I turned it off.

Thankfully, you can turn the warning off by simply pressing yet another button on the end of the directional signal stalk. No big deal. Just be prepared to repeat this ritual every time you start the car if you prefer to be BLIS-less.

I can put up with BLIS, and I suppose I can even see some value in it. After all, blind spots are getting worse and studies show that blind spot detection and lane departure warnings show promise. I'm sure my fellow commuters, busy with their cell phones, newspapers, and eyeliner can see value in it, too. After all, who has time to pay attention to driving?  But seriously, that raises another concern. If today's distracted driver is meant to rely on a system like BLIS, it'd damn well better work. All the time. The other night while driving home in the rain, the Volvo gave me another warning message saying its function might be diminished, something Volvo says can happen in bad weather. Never mind that a pile of leaves along the side of the road can set off the light show.

All righty, then. I'm back to turning it off. Call me old fashioned, but I'd rather use the mirrors and/or a quick glance over the shoulder to know when it's safe to change lanes. The rest of the time, I can motor along without the light show, diminished function or no.

Now that's commuting bliss.

Jim Travers

Learn about automotive safety.

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