Victims may be closer than they appear


By Al Vinikour   

Several years ago manufacturers came up with a safety device called a “ground illuminating mirror.” When putting the gearshift lever in reverse the outside rearview mirrors tilt downward. Its purpose is to make it easier to see if any small children or pets might be looming below the driver’s sight line.

This is certainly an admirable function and no doubt is responsible for saving lives. I’m sure whoever invented this received his or her fair share of plaudits and awards. Maybe even a bonus of company stock (the financial equivalent of a swift kick in the ass).
But what happens when someone is so hell bent on looking out for a small object? I’ll tell you what, Timmy. He doesn’t notice that walking behind the vehicle is his mailman, Ralph. The reason he didn’t notice Ralph is because Timmy couldn’t see behind him at eye level using his outside mirrors because they were looking at the ground. He did notice the neighbor’s pet hamster, Jorge, as he ran out from below the car and while Timmy was symbolically patting himself on the back for saving Jorge’s life, he runs his 4,500-pound Buick into Ralph’s knees, thus ending the 35-year-career of a dedicated postal employee.

Most vehicles have a setting whereby you can c
hoose not to have the mirrors tilt downward when driving in reverse. That’s fine, but what if someone like Timmy gets into his car to run to the convenience store to buy some chip dip in a vehicle that his wife has driven with the mirror settings pointed in a downward position? With all the safety and convenience items built in to some vehicles it would take a pre-flight checklist as long as a B-52’s to set everything to one’s liking.

Furthermore, in order to know how to turn the downward-facing mirror to the “off” position one would probably have to read the owner’s manual. Just who the hell takes the time to do that? Certainly not Timmy…much to the chagrin of that poor, ready to “go postal” Ralph.

The point of this diatribe is to point out how possible it is to overkill (pardon the pun) safety technology. I’ll give you another example. I’m currently test-driving a very nice vehicle made by a company I’ll simply refer to as “Bankrupt Auto Manufacturer #1” to protect its anonymity. It has a backup camera located on the inside rearview mirror. What’s that all about?

The thing is so damned small that a driver would need the eyesight of an American Eagle to decipher what’s behind his vehicle. The average driver, at least the ones old enough to enjoy the great taste of Metamucil, have the eyesight about two ticks above Mr. Magoo’s and in order to effectively use a backup camera they’d need a screen about the size of a flat-panel television.   

There is one item of relatively new technology I trust implicitly and that’s a Blind Spot Information System (commonly referred to as BLIS). Granted, it probably wouldn’t pick up someone the size of Tattoo from Fantasy Island walking alongside the vehicle…but it sure would save someone from being blindsided by a J. B. Hunt 18-wheeler on the freeway. I don’t know what it would cost to install something like this in the average vehicle but at least in the luxury, and near-luxury segment there’s no excuse for not adapting this life-saving technology.

But THE most important technology in any car has been around since 1934…which means that some people haven’t learned to use it in 75 years…that’s right, Pepe…TURN SIGNALS!!!!  I’ve written entire columns about those and the insensitive schmucks who think others should use them…but not themselves. 

Short of a world-class psychiatrist with four advanced degrees, the average reader may have a tough time deciphering the direct message of this piece.

In short, whenever you get a new vehicle…and it has a fair number of settings for its various technologies…break out the fondue pots, unscrew the cap of recently-bottled vino, arrange a bunch of chairs in a semi-circle in front of the fireplace and invite your friends over for a reading of your owner’s manual. (If you’re in a warmer climate you could place the chairs around your new car or truck and take turns inside the vehicle, setting your choices.) This could start a whole new trend in entertaining and save a slew of lives at the same time. I can picture it now…”Tonight…on the Owners Manual Television Network, we take up the complexities of an 18-way power seat.”

And to think that this idea was spawned from a pair of blown-out knees caused by a confrontation between a Buick and a letter carrier.