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Thursday
Nov262015

Blind Spot Detection: Why Wait?

By Al Vinikour


Through the decades new auto technologies were initially extra-cost options, and not always available on anything other than the top (and most expensive) trim levels. Case in point: seat belts.  I don’t know what year they became available to order on a new car, but people were not quick to embrace it, nor did it seem the automakers were out to push it, either. However, as it became evident that seatbelts did in fact save lives, the push was on to have them mandatory on all new cars. At the time it wasn’t illegal to not use them, but at least they had to be factory installed. Over time, an array of equipment was made for the belts including retractors, whose intentions were to keep the belts neatly rolled up when not in use. Before that technology was invented, they were like the seat belts on an airplane — manually adjustable and always out in the open and in the way.

Along came three-point seatbelts, invented (not surprisingly) by an engineer from Volvo in Sweden. This device controlled the acceleration of the torso, as well as the lower body, and eventually seatbelt use was enacted into law in all 50 states. All these years later, it’s impossible to accurately guess how many millions of lives have been saved by this simple, yet marvelous product.

Another major safety system emerged — disc brakes. While the tried and true method of stopping a vehicle, brake shoes, drums and all the paraphernalia that goes with it, did a fair job. However, they’d wear out relatively quickly, especially in the case of heavier sedans. Along came disc brakes. Not only were they so much more effective in keeping the brakes cooler, the area the brake pads contacted on each revolution of the wheels — the swept area — was so much greater that stopping was instantaneous in comparison. Again, they were a cost-option when ordering a new car, and after a few years became standard equipment.
Then came anti-lock brakes, probably the greatest single safety technology ever devised for stopping cars and trucks in a straight line on every type of pavement and weather condition said vehicle would ever encounter. There was a learning curve because as the brakes would pulsate, the impression was given that they weren’t gripping the road. As a result, the driver would pump the pedal. With each easing of the foot from the brake pedal, the anti-lock brake system was basically short-circuited. By keeping the brake pedal depressed, the system would work its magic and, as much as possible, keep the vehicle from fish-tailing on slick pavement while retaining the ability to steer around obstacles. Like disc brakes, anti-lock brakes became standard or available equipment on even the most basic trim level.

I could give other examples, and run up a 10,000-word story that would do a better job than a medically-prescribed sleeping pill. My gift to you is skipping those. However, there is one safety device I’ve gotten to trust so implicitly that, for the sake of life-saving everywhere, it should be included with the safety package of every car and truck sold: Blind Spot Information Systems (BLIS). There are few things more dangerous than blind spots while you’re driving. The roads are full of side-swiped vehicles from just such occurrences. What BLIS does: through sensors it detects a vehicle in another lane that’s moving into your left or right blind spot. Indication is generally in the outside rearview mirrors via a blinking light on the housing or a solid light located within the mirror itself. If you start to change lanes while the system is working, it will emit a warning noise to let you know it’s not safe to change lanes. When it is, all indicator lights in the mirrors go away. It’s terrific technology!

However, it’s not available on all car lines. The brands who do offer it generally don’t offer it on lower trim levels, and generally make BLIS available only as part of a bigger package (read “more money”). As someone who has listened to me and trusted me all my life — and never told myself a lie — I ask you to join me in believing BLIS has the potential to save as many lives as do seat belts and high-technology braking. Even though I failed high school geometry, I’m still mathematically-astute enough to realize making such technology standard is going to add to the bottom line price of a vehicle — especially one aimed at the lower end of the cost spectrum that attracts the younger crowd and buyers on a budget. However, no matter what they cost, I implore the pencil-pushing financial types who love to de-content cars to bury the price of this system in the bottom line of the vehicle, and not offer a model that doesn’t contain it. The greater the volume, the lower the price. Plus, the case can be made that the cost of adding a feature like BLIS is way, way less than the cost for a funeral.

It’s really easy to go through life without a navigation system in your vehicle, and it’s easier than that to buy a vehicle that doesn’t have a rear-seat entertainment system. Nobody’s going to face serious injury because their kids won’t see SpongeBob SquarePants from the comfort of their minivan’s rear seats.  But if you’re rolling down the mountain on a rainy day and want to pass the slow-poke in front of you, and there’s a vehicle in your blind spot, BLIS is going to be your new savior. BLIS is the cheapest protection you can buy to eliminate one more dangerous situation that could ruin your entire day.

If you get the opportunity to ever test this system at a dealership, and you realize this Hoosier speaks the truth, then I think groups of new believers should light torches (like the villagers in Transylvania used to do when they marched to Dracula’s castle), start parading around the corporate offices of all the vehicle manufactures, and stay there until BLIS becomes standard on every vehicle. It’s not as if they’d be forced to spend their own money saving your life. Put to them that this would be a guaranteed profit center, and the larcenously-hearted executives on the top floor just may have had their day made.

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