Keeping You Safe in Your Car When You Can’t See Everything

How many times have you started to change lanes and hear the screaming horn of an approaching car, jolting you in your seat as you jerk back into your lane? We’ve all done this at some time when driving.

We don’t always have a ten-year-old in the back seat looking out the back window saying “You can go now!” Sometimes, that glance in the rear-view mirror or the turn of the neck isn’t as quick as the lead-footed driver that races from behind your car to zoom past you.

What if your car can figure out someone’s coming – a vehicle that’s in your blind spot – and warn you it’s approaching? That one feature would be able to minimize or prevent a countless number of accidents, especially at high speeds on turnpikes and expressways.

Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) is a system that does just that. The name varies, depending on the manufacturer – Blind Spot Information (BSI), and Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), are two examples. Early versions, like those found on the 2007 Volvo S80 sedan, used cameras mounted on the mirrors to capture approaching vehicles in the blind spot area. Today, these systems use sensors located in the lower rear body quarter panels or outer edges of the rear bumper.

BSM systems usually feature a button on the dashboard that turns the system on or off, and in some vehicles, you’ll need to go through your information system setups to activate or deactivate.

An orange icon appears in either the side view mirrors outside the vehicle, or on the front corner of the window frame inside the vehicle (see graphics). When activated, a vehicle in your blind spot will cause these orange icons to light up. Put on your turn signal to change lanes, and these icons will flash to get your attention that there is a vehicle you don’t see.

The sensors for this feature can be used for another purpose. If you are backing out of a parking spot or a driveway, they can detect vehicles approaching on either side, and depending how sensitive the system is, they may even detect a person walking behind your car, or even detect a shopping cart. This feature is known as Cross Traffic Alert, and is sold by car makers as an additional feature.

So, if you see Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) offered in an upgraded package, you will also see Cross Traffic Alert in that list, probably on the next line – this way a car company can put two items on their features list instead of one, even though they operate off the same sensor.

Some car companies can put three items on their features list based on these sensors – that third one being Lane Change Assist – not to be confused with Lane Keep Assist, which is a different feature, using a different device, which we’ll discuss in a different article.

Lane Change Assist takes BSM one step further. Carmakers like Hyundai and their luxury brand Genesis, offer this feature that will calculate the speed of a vehicle approaching from the rear, either left or right side, and let you know if it is not safe to change lanes at that moment.

You’ll need to read your owners manuals to know the speeds and distances associated with BSM and Rear Cross Traffic Alert – how fast you need to be going for the system to work; how fast the other car needs to be going to be detected; how far away the car can be before it’s detected; when you are backing up, how far to the side can it detect a vehicle or person; how fast they need to be going; how fast or slow you need to be when backing up.

As more and more safety features are becoming standard on new cars, these two (or three) features, however, remain part of higher trim levels or additional packages. This is true of not only the affordable family and mid-priced vehicles, it is also the same with luxury cars as well.

Still, some cars have taken an alternative path to these features. Honda, for example, has offered an alternative system in the higher trim levels of their Accords, CRVs, and Pilots. Using a two screen system on the dashboard, a camera is placed on the lower frame of the right rear-view mirror. When you put your right turn signal on, you get a view of everything to the side of your car and as far down to the right lane as you can see. This is displayed on the top monitor. This way, you don’t have to move your head all the way to the right, and you can glance down at this view quickly and still keep looking forward, to see the road ahead.

You can also turn this camera on manually with a button mounted on the end of the turn signal stalk. The problem, in my opinion, is that it is a disorienting view – it’s like looking at a repositioned rear view mirror, and while you’re going forward, the picture is going away from you (all except any vehicles travel in close proximity) For the left side – there isn’t a camera, but the left 2 inches of the rear view mirror is angled in such a way that the view bends around to cover your driver’s side blind spot.

For most new vehicles out there, Blind Spot Monitoring paired with Cross Traffic Alert is offered at some trim level. Choosing a vehicle with them can solve several problems, like changing lanes at fast speed without colliding into a vehicle you didn’t see, and making it easier to pull into a parking spot without having the fear of backing out later on. Now that ten year old in the back can turn around, sit down and go back to what he normally does – watching cartoons on his smart phone and asking you “Are we there yet?”

Will Schirmer’s passion and knowledge of cars extends almost 40 years. Will has been a certified sale professional with three car manufacturers, and is now an Insurance Advisor, providing coverage for client’s automobiles, homes, specialty items, as well as financial protection for families.  Contact Will at