Diatribe: Surprises best for birthdays, not while driving
By AL VINIKOUR For Sun-Times Media August 21, 2012 3:48PM
Blind spot information system technology strikes me as an advance that will be on the map 25 years from now as something that changed the automotive industry and driving safety.
BLIS is a system whereby when a vehicle is in your blind spot (and believe me, every vehicle has one unless you’re in a convertible with the top down) a sensor will pick it up and indicate this, generally through a light in the outside rearview mirror.
If you’re going to change lanes and for some unknown reason you’re a law-abiding citizen and use your turn signals to indicate your intentions, BLIS will beep out a warning so you won’t veer into that lane. Or, if you’re that damned stupid, at least it will alert you to the fact that you’re about to have a bad day.
At first this technology was only found on luxury cars. However, it has now entered the mainstream of vehicles and even some compact cars are available with this safety device. And it truly is a safety device, ranking right up there with airbags, disc brakes and electronic stability controls — all or most of which are standard equipment on every vehicle sold in North America.
I’ll give you an example of how effective this system is: I like to think that I’m a better-than-average driver and my accident record, while not 100 percent perfect, has a higher percentage of success than my academic career ever did.
Recently I was testing a 2012 Jaguar XJL Portfolio and driving on the freeway with my wife, enjoying the hell out of feeling like Mr. Vinikour. I was in the middle lane and did not see any traffic around me. Imagine my shock when the notification light went off in my right-hand rear view mirror, telling me that somebody was moving up my left flank, directly in my blind spot. This same scenario occurred three times that afternoon. With the law of averages, I could have been switching lanes, thinking the world was my oyster, and rammed into the unseen car beside me.
I have yet to talk with any auto journalist colleagues who didn’t totally trust BLIS. The same can’t be said for the similarly heralded rearview camera. I don’t trust those things as far as I can throw the vehicle they’re installed on and I’ve made my reasons for this known in previous columns. The trustworthiness of BLIS is far beyond that of rearview cameras.
Rearview cameras only cover a finite width of field. But BLIS starts at the right or left rear bumper angle and runs the entire length of the car until the vehicle passing alongside is well beyond the range of the front bumper. (Note: I have not tested Infiniti’s new backup collision intervention, but from what I’ve seen it will offer the same degree of safety from the rear that BLIS does from the side.)
I don’t know what the installation cost is to a manufacturer but en masse it can’t be that expensive. This week I’m driving a 2012 Range Rover Evoque and the stand-alone cost for this option is $450 (on a $57,545 vehicle). Just to show you how affordable that is, the paint premium for the Range Rover — Firenze Red — costs $950, more than twice the cost of a life-saving device like BLIS.
Compare that to the cost of having a side-impact collision because a vehicle in your blind spot and you make impact on the highway. Most insurance policies have at least a $500 deductible clause. So in the case of the Range Rover that offers BLIS for $450 you’re already $50 in the hole before you get out of your vehicle to check out the damage.
There are many things that I believe should not be regulated by the government — the purchase of supersize beverages, for instance. But I would have no problem with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandating that by the year 20-whatever, BLIS must be standard equipment on all vehicles sold in the United States. Just remember, surprises are fine for birthdays and other celebrations; when driving through heavy traffic Mr. Surprise is not your friend.
Al Vinikour is a Midwest-based freelance auto writer. Proving a mind is a “terrible thing to use” he sometimes sits in traffic and ponders about things — generally auto-related — that make him mad. Believing the “pen is mightier than the sword” (and generally results in a whole lot less jail time), he vents his anger through a word processor and produces the Driver’s Side Diatribe column. Email him at email@example.com.
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