I wouldn’t have been trumpeting this five years ago, but it’s impossible to ignore today with our current mix of high-riding, super-bright, LED-equipped trucks and SUVs on the road. Automakers need to start making auto-dimming mirrors standard equipment. And by “mirrors,” I mean all mirrors. None of this only the driver-side mirror dims crap. Because guess what? When you’re driving, you have to look in both side mirrors and the rearview, and all are aimed back toward your head. It’s wild that I have to spell it out like that, but there are lots of luxury and non-luxury cars out there today with just a dimming rearview mirror, single dimming driver side mirror and a regular ‘ole passenger side mirror.
This crisis (and that’s a fair descriptor for those of us who drive low cars) of being blinded at night has gotten worse over the past few years. Americans are increasingly buying more crossovers, SUVs and trucks — that's not changing. Those vehicles tend to have their headlight fixtures mounted much higher than sedans, hatchbacks and coupes, which means that even the low beams can be a major pain in your shorter car’s mirrors. Add to this the advent of better LED light technology (with little advancement in mirror technology) and the need to score well in IIHS headlight safety tests, and we’re left with a perfect recipe for blinding drivers on the highway.
Anybody who has been passed by an especially tall truck at night knows exactly what I’m talking about. Without auto-dimming side mirrors, the only way to not be blindingly dazzled by trailing headlights is to hold your hand up to block the mirror’s reflection. You can try adjusting the mirror’s angle all you want to deflect the light elsewhere, but that maneuver is hardly any safer than simply blocking your vision in that particular area. A regular, old-school rearview mirror (the one inside) at least has the age-old switch that tilts the mirror up to quasi-dim the headlights, but the rearward view is far worse than what you get with an electronic auto-dimming unit. After all, those exist for a reason: they're better.
What we have here is a problem brought upon us by … ourselves. We obviously want the best and brightest headlights to light the way ahead at night, which is one of the reasons why the IIHS has added headlight performance to its list of criteria it tests for when handing out Top Safety Pick awards. Automakers know car buyers like being able to see further, but they also really like being able to say their car has won safety awards. I’m not blaming the IIHS for blinding other motorists, but the insurance institute is certainly partly responsible for automakers developing brighter headlights that project further down the road than headlights from years past.
The problem here is staring (or blinding) us right in the eyes. Not being able to see while a car passes you on the left or right is not good. But! We happen to have already invented technology that keeps us from being blinded. They’re called auto-dimming mirrors, and in most circumstances, they work like a charm.
In case you were curious, auto-dimming mirrors work through a process called electrochromism. When a sensor detects light from headlights behind you, it sends a signal that triggers the electrochromic gel in the mirror to go through a reaction that darkens the otherwise transparent gel. Once the gel has darkened (which always takes a partial second), those super-bright headlights lose all their sting, as they've been "auto-dimmed."
Seeing as how this technology exists and could help us stay safer on the highway, it should be standard equipment on more (or all) cars. Much like automatic emergency braking has become ubiquitous in the auto industry for new cars these days, I’d like to see auto-dimming mirrors do the same. Volvo has already hopped on the bandwagon. All of its cars are equipped with auto-dimming mirrors standard, because the Swedish company known best for safety considers it a safety feature. I wholeheartedly agree with Volvo on this front. And not only does Volvo get the philosophy right, but Volvo also executes. Both side mirrors — not just the driver side — dim, because of course they should. The number of times that I’ve been blinded by just passing a semi-truck or especially tall SUV at night is too damn high. The level of blindness/annoyance isn’t as bad on the passenger side as it is on the driver side, but it’s still bad enough to warrant putting an auto-dimming mirror out there.
Cost is the one argument against putting auto-dimming mirrors in everything. They’re more expensive than a regular mirror, but you could also argue that it’s a simplification of the design and production process for the manufacturer. Instead of offering two different mirrors, just offer the one auto-dimming mirror, and forget about developing the other. Europe and Asia are jumping on camera side mirrors, which would also theoretically solve the problem, but those are worth an entirely different discussion altogether.
Even if it does cause the base price of a car to tick upward a tiny bit, I’d say the safety and peace of mind gained is worth the cost. Cars travel such great distances in split seconds — which is one reason why glancing down at your phone while on the road is very dangerous — so any amount of time spent blinded by dazzling headlights is too much. Give us the Good Mirrors.