Danger zone: How big is your vehicle’s blind spot?

Consumer Reports News: April 09, 2010 08:41 AM

As we wrote in a previous blog, vehicle blind zones, sometimes referred to as blind spots, are responsible for at least 50 children backed over each week--two of which die. According to safety group Kids and Cars, so far this year, there have been 31 deaths from backover accidents, mostly by vehicles driven by close relatives.

Consumer Reports tests the blind spots of a variety of popular models to help consumers understand how large some vehicle’s blind zones really are. We measure the distance with a 5 foot 8 inch driver and a shorter, 5 foot, 1 inch driver.

To check the blind zones, a 28-inch traffic cone is positioned behind each vehicle at the point where the driver could just see its top. Then we measure the distance between the cone and the car.

Smaller cars tend to have a smaller blind zone. For instance, our 2008 Smart ForTwo and 2008 Volvo C30 had the best results of only four feet. Pickups are the worst offenders with the Chevrolet Avalanche having the biggest distance of 50 feet for the current model. We have found the average midsized sedan has a blind spot of 13 feet for the average-height driver, and the average midsized SUV has an 18-foot blind spot.

A rear-view camera is a useful tool to enhance visibility, and it has special appeal if you have small children. Many display the image of what’s immediately behind the car on a dashboard screen, like you’d find with a factory navigation system. More and more vehicles are offering backup cameras without the need to get optional navigation; some have small displays that appear in the rearview mirror. If you’re not in the market for a new car, aftermarket models are available, but some can be difficult to install. See our test of a few aftermarket camera systems.

Without a rear-view camera, the best defense against backover accidents is to walk around your vehicle before you back up to ensure no one is in harm’s way. Drive slowly when backing up, and keep the stereo volume low or off so that you can respond to warnings or sounds. If kids are in the area, make sure you can see all of them before driving, or ask an adult to monitor the area around the vehicle as you back up. These extra steps can truly save a life.

Check out our blind spot report to compare the visibility among measured vehicles.

Liza Barth

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