Why Mirror Checks Are So Important

Being aware of everything around you while driving is an important part of becoming a safe driver. This also includes regularly checking the mirrors. Regular mirror checks, coupled with short-term memory, help all drivers stay up to date with the ever-changing traffic patterns approaching from behind them. I’ll talk about short-term memory a little later. Since most drivers check their mirrors, the real question is, do they check them often enough?

check rearview mirror


How often should you check the rearview mirror?

Since other drivers can move up quickly from behind and change lanes to pass you in seconds, checking the rearview mirror every 5 to 10 seconds is a good habit. At city speeds, 5 to 10 seconds would attest to roughly a mirror check each block. Some may ask why so often, so let’s start there.

Driving from one intersection to another takes between 5 and 10 seconds. Each time you pass through the intersection, there is a risk of a vehicle turning in behind you, coming from that intersection you just passed through. Checking the rearview mirror every 5 to 10 seconds helps to keep you up to date of any new vehicle behind you. It also allows you to determine if the driver behind is also gaining on you, with the result of possibly following you too closely. It will take regular glances in the rear-view mirror to determine if the driver behind is gaining on you or staying well back. Compare the image of the vehicle you see in the rear-view mirror with each time you check the mirror. If the image of the vehicle behind seems larger in your mirror, they are gaining on you. If it looks the same size with each mirror check, they stay the same distance behind you. This is important information to have, especially before you have to brake to a stop.

If The Vehicle Behind You is Tailgating

Let’s talk about slowing down. If you have a vehicle close behind you, it can create a risk each time you have to brake quickly and rather hard. Knowing if you have a driver following closely behind you before breaking is always to your advantage. This means checking the rear-view mirror before easing off the accelerator will let you know if a driver is following you closely. This means you would be able to brake early and gradually. This early braking means the driver behind would also be able to brake gradually, with enough time to stop without hitting you. Checking the mirror before slowing down gives you information that will help you make early driving choices.

Checking Your Mirror Before and After Making a Turn

What about checking your mirror before and after making a turn? Is that needed as well? Yes, by all means. Checking the rear-view mirror before turning can allow you to see if any cyclist or vehicle is about to pass you on the inside. This means your turning path would also cut through their path, perhaps causing a collision. Checking the rear-view mirror after making a turn will let you know if another vehicle is approaching you quickly as you enter a new street or if an emergency vehicle is approaching you. Either way, these are excellent reasons why checking the rear-view mirror after completing a turn is a good thing.

Check The Rear-view Mirror While Stopped

The final opportunity to check the rear-view mirror is while stopped. While you’re sitting there, you become vulnerable. Any driver approaching from behind you who either does not see you’re stopped because of distraction or daydreaming can collide with you while you’re sitting there. This type of collision is the most common in all of North America. The first part of avoiding a rear crash is knowing you need to. Although many drivers may look all around them while stopped, the real focus should be in the rear-view mirror. You can get out of the way once you notice a driver approaching too quickly from behind.

What About Side Mirrors?

Now that we’ve tackled the rear-view mirror, when should drivers check their side mirrors? For the most part, the side mirror seems to complement the rear-view mirror. They are often used during a lane change after the rear-view mirror has already been used. Although they are often referred to as the side mirror, they are a side rear-view mirror. They see well down the road behind you but generally in the lane next to you. Using them both during a lane change is a good use of your mirrors.

Another time to use your side mirror is if a larger vehicle is traveling or stopping directly behind you. The size of the vehicle fills your rear-view mirror, so how would you know if it was safe to change lanes when you can’t see well behind you? The side mirror gives you the best view if the lane next to you is open and available to switch lanes. Now, when you are changing lanes, a good way to use the rear-view mirror to know if the space in the next lane is big enough to change in front of the next vehicle is to see both of their headlights in the rear-view mirror. At city speeds, that would allow you to safely move over without causing that driver to apply their brakes.

Use Your Short-term Memory

Early on, I brought up short-term memory. We need to use our short-term memory after each mirror check. We must retain the information we’ve just seen to make solid driving choices. For example, checking your mirror every 5 to 10 seconds without realizing what you’ve seen won’t help you. Adjusting what you’ve seen is a big reason why checking the mirrors so often is important. Building the habit of checking your mirrors regularly is important, but being consciously aware of what you’ve seen is equally important.

So, now you know why mirror checks are so important, including when to check them and how often. Making these checks into a habit will help you stay aware of the ever-changing traffic coming up behind you.