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How to Use and Adjust Your Mirrors (Side and Rearview)

Imagine driving a vehicle and being able to see only what is in view if you turn your head to look. Until rearview and side mirrors became standard, that was the situation for many drivers. That might work on a street with almost no traffic, but for many years, mirrors have been key safety features for drivers in all kinds of vehicles. Knowing how to adjust and use mirrors properly is essential for all drivers to be able to move along a road, turn, or perform other necessary tasks without endangering themselves and other road users.

When cars were first invented, they had no mirrors at all. As the Driving.ca website notes, it was not until the 1930s that rearview mirrors came as standard features in all vehicles, and ten years later, the driver’s side mirror came into normal use. The passenger’s side mirror came later, and even now, it is a recommendation rather than a requirement in Canada. However, all vehicles come with a passenger’s side mirror as part of its standard equipment.

Normally, vehicles have three mirrors for the driver to use. The rearview mirror is located at the top of the windshield, set just to the right of the driver’s seat. The two side mirrors are set outside the vehicle, at the sides of the windshield in front of the two front doors. All three can be adjusted to suit the driver’s height and preferred style of driving, within certain limits. Short drivers may need to place a cushion on the seat to be able to see properly.

Rearview Mirrors

The rearview mirror is designed to show the entire back window so that the driver can see what is behind the vehicle. Each time drivers settle behind the wheel, they should make sure that the mirror is at the correct angle. It is important to do this even in vehicles normally driven by only one person, as a slight change in position from one day to another can make a difference to the view from the mirror. When two or more drivers share the same vehicle, each one should be sure to adjust the rearview mirror to the right position.

Most rearview mirrors have two different settings, operated either with a lever at the bottom or an electronic system. As the Driving.ca website explains, one setting reduces glare from the lights on the road by tilting the mirror to show a reflection of the road, while the other setting allows drivers to see the road in normal light.

Side Mirrors

driverside mirror

The position of the side mirrors is equally important. Drivers should always be sure to adjust these mirrors each time they get into the vehicle. The mirrors should be aimed so that the driver can see the lanes on either side without being able to see the edges of the vehicle. Often this adjustment is done with a knob or button on the inside of the door, but drivers may have to adjust some side mirrors by hand.

Finding a road that is entirely deserted, at least during the day, is a rare thing. Most streets are busy with drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and even animals. Drivers need to know what is around their vehicles to avoid collisions and to stay away from dangerous situations. If a bicycle is passing, for example, the driver needs to know this to avoid hitting the cyclist and possibly causing major injuries or even fatalities.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s website recommends checking the mirrors about every five seconds to be sure of any new developments on the road. Vehicles can turn onto the street from a side road or a cyclist might decide to change lanes to get onto a new route. In just a few seconds, a pedestrian could step out onto the road, possibly causing another driver to lose control of the vehicle. Any of these situations could affect the road far ahead and behind where someone is driving.

Adjusting Mirrors to Avoid Blind Spots

As the Ministry of Transportation’s website notes, it is important to adjust the mirrors to leave as few blind spots as possible. Blind spots are areas around a vehicle where the mirrors fail to give drivers a view of the road. To deal with this problem, drivers must perform shoulder checks to ensure that they can see whatever would otherwise be hidden from view.

hand adjusting mirror

It is also important to remember that other road users have their own blind spots. Truck drivers often have the largest blind spots of any road users as the trailers on their vehicles can hide much of the road behind them. However, even cyclists have blind spots as they frequently have no mirrors at all. Shoulder checks are also necessarily somewhat limited for people on bicycles as they can easily lose their balance and crash. Similarly, pedestrians might not always be able to look in every direction for traffic.

Mirror Maintenance

The Ministry of Transportation’s online handbook for trucks notes that maintaining windows and mirrors is essential, as cracked glass can give a distorted image that may be confusing for the driver. Showing images as clearly as possible is essential for mirrors to do the job that they are designed to perform.

Many accidents can damage mirrors, while the weather can reduce their usefulness. Outside mirrors can be damaged by flying rocks or other debris, or they can even be hit by other vehicles. The glass or sometimes the entire mirror in its setting might need replacing. In winter, the driver must ensure that the mirrors are free of snow and ice to give the best view possible of the street. While the rearview mirror is protected from many of these dangers, it may still be knocked out of place by a careless movement.

A vehicle’s mirrors are essential instruments for helping drivers to operate vehicles safely, whether they are operating a small car, a van, truck, or anything else on the road. With mirrors, drivers can have an extended view of the street and assess potential dangers, giving them more time to prepare and to take evasive action if necessary. Knowing how to use mirrors properly is an essential part of being a good driver.