Sunday, 26 September 2010

Look In The Mirror, Baby.

I did the first stint on our drive to Cornwall last week, and in doing so I noticed that Nicola's Peugeot 306 three-door has an almighty drivers-side blindspot. This led me to consider the humble door-mirror, something that car-designers across the industry are itching to be rid of, But I can't see it happenning any time soon.

Door mirrors are fragile, aerodynamically nightmarish and spoil the lines of the car. They are also the best possible solution to the dilemma of "how to check behind you". As technology becomes more and more prevaillant and ways of cheating the wind become more and more important in the quest for reduced vehicle emissions, the door mirror will get the chop sooner or later. But before we start looking at screens for our lane-changing guidance, we need to consider the merits of the exsisting technology, those shiny things that project from our doors..

We can discuss image quality. A reflective surface like a mirror will, by its nature, give an infinitely higher resolution than any screen can offer. Not just definition, but colour accuracy too. And blackness. A look at your mirror at night will no doubt show total black with just the pinpoint shapes of headlamps and streetlights to be seen. Even the best screen currently available can't reproduce black, true blackness can only be achieved through total absence of light, impossible via any media which relies on luminescence to create an image.

Mostly, I reject the idea of screens because looking in the door mirror is an instinctive action. You are seeing an image of what's happenning outside the car, outside the car. If you're using the mirror to manoeuver and what you're trying to see falls outside the reflected image, you can just move your head. It's part of driving. Can't see something? Move your head until you can. A static camera can only show you what it's pointed at.

On the M25 last Saturday, I learnt to overcome those blindspots by moving my head forward so the mirror had a greater field of vision. No dash-mounted screen would allow you to do that. I'm no luddite, I believe that technology is there to be used but sometimes we got it right the first time around.

My car could hover, be nuclear powered, made of chalk and with the wheels on the inside, I wouldn't mind, as long as I can still look in the mirror.