Cars for the rest of us.

The Blind Leading the Blind Spot

Aug 24, 10 • by Craig Fitzgerald • New Cars, News28 CommentsRead More »

I can't see shit.

“And now, my friend, the first rule of Italian driving: What is behind me is not important.”

– Franco Bertollini, The Gumball Rally (1976)

I’m an unabashed fan of cars from the post-war period, right up until the end of the 1980s. Even those cars from that bleak period in the 1970s, after the fuel crisis of 1973, have a special place in my heart because those are the cars I remember my parents driving when I first became aware that cars were more than just an appliance for transporting you from place to place.

After you’ve spent some time driving modern cars, what becomes abundantly clear the second you plant yourself in the driver’s seat of any car from the 2000s back is that you have a clear view of every corner. My daily driver is a 1983 Pontiac Parisienne, and while that car is often criticized for its “design-by-T-square” styling, at a glance, I have a largely uninterrupted view, thanks to the glassy greenhouse that used to be part of every car’s design.

Of course, the law of unintended consequences has forced some design features in the second decade of the new millennium. Every car now has enough airbags to raise a scuttled battleship, and you’ve got to put those things somewhere, so the A-, B- and C-pillars have gotten much thicker. In fact, rollover standards mandating a strong safety cage have made the term “pillar” a misnomer. They’re full blown panels now.

But much of this is simple design choice. You can build a curtain-style airbag into the roof as easily as you can build it into a pillar. As 19- and 20-inch wheels become the norm on even the most pedestrian automobiles, it has pushed designers to build their most outrageous concepts at the expense of visibility. Sit in a ’65 Mustang and you can hang your arm out the window. Sit in a ’10 Mustang and the window opening starts somewhere around the top of your left ear, leaving passengers feeling like they’re sitting at the bottom of a deep, dark hole.

Vehicles like the Honda Crosstour and the Acura ZDX that fall into a new segment somewhere between coupe and crossover have taken the lack of visibility to a ridiculous extreme. Between the gigantic sail panels and the five headrests the size of a marble rye, there’s nothing to see out the back window. And if there was, designers put the kibosh on it. Look out the rear view mirror and all you can see is the thick horizontal bar across the entire rear window.

Designers counter that both the Crosstour and the ZDX have blindspot warning systems and rear view cameras as standard equipment.

That argument is fine if you’re designing motorhomes or Peterbilts. These are cars that in large part are being purchased by people older than 50, who require a freshened eyeglass prescription every year. Why aren’t we designing cars that allow them to see more, rather than less?

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28 Responses to The Blind Leading the Blind Spot

  1. CrystalSpins says:

    After a recent car accident, the insurance company gave me a 2010 Chevy Malibu rental. I loved everything about the car except for the fact that I couldn’t see out of the damn thing. How are you supposed to drive if you can’t see? I mean I was afraid that i was going to back into something every time I backed out of my driveway! Obviously I’m just re-iterating your post. So I guess I could just say, I agree completely, my thoughts exactly. I bought a 1998 Chevy Lumina after I returned the Malibu. It’s not the greatest car, but the price was right and at least I can see out of the dang thing.

    Crystal
    http://www.crystalspins.com

  2. claudsy says:

    Craig –

    I have to agree with you on this one. Growing up with what are now classic cars makes one appreciate the finer points of the driving experience. I wonder how many little children are going to die in back-up accidents with these cars before someone takes notice of the design rather than blame the family for the deaths.

    As someone who risks life and limb each day from drivers who can’t see where they’re going or what’s around them because of distractions, I don’t feel confident in my own safety just getting through a parking lot.

    Thank you for your humorous, though accurate, rendering of today’s design flaws.

    CJ Young

  3. Survival of the fittest? The quickest pedestrians to get out of the way of my Chrysler 300 when I am backing up live to see another day!

  4. cineva says:

    ai dreptate si eu urasc chestia sta cu vizibilitatea… macar sa puna camera in spate si un disply pe bord :)

  5. Exactly! Thanks for the common sense post!

  6. wahidayat says:

    older 1 unit new car family by Honda

  7. zzyzxbryxx says:

    I drive the the tiniest Honda in its current line-up…..The Fit and it too is plagued w/the blind spots like you just described w/no blindspot warning systems of any kind. It takes me double or triple the time to back up wherever I’m at. Not to mention the extra neck and back exercises that I’m executing while backing up. Otherwise, the “Fit” is perfect for me in every other aspect.

  8. Excellent point. I’ve always been a fan of older Hondas, particularly from the eighties. Very thin pillars, upright glass, tall green house, very low sills. You could see everything and I felt like I was sitting right over the front axle. The old 3 series Biimmers were like that too.

    I test drove the new Civics, and though I love the exterior styling and the engine and the gear box and the steering I opted for a 5 speed Accent with 16 inch rims, added a cross tower brace and modified air intake and voila! -almost as much fun as my ’86 Si. And with almost as good visibility.

  9. The new Dodge Avenger is like that. All door, no window like it came from a chop shop. And, just like its chassis-mate the Caliber, you can’t see the end of the nose through the windscreen. Sporty on the outside, feels like a garbage truck looking out.

    • Steve says:

      The Avenger is the worst car I’ve ever been in due to the visibility issues. I feel the car is unsafe, period and the Feds should take it off the road.

      • roger henry says:

        The Feds should take it off the road? How can you be serious? If you let them take your Avenger and everyone else for your perceived safety issue, they will certainly take everyone else’s muscle car that is “overpowered”. Careful what you wish for.

        If the Avenger is so bad, people won’t buy it. Which is, of course, true…unless you are a buyer for Budget Car Rental.

  10. ryoko861 says:

    Oh, you’ve hit the nail on the proverbial head! My ’70 Pontiac LeMans had wonderful site. My ’99 Chryslter Convertible? Not so much, unless you put the top down, then everything is great. But that’s an issue if it’s 40 degrees outside.

    The only problem with the ’60′s Mustangs is the little vent window. They are one sharp pointy object if your not careful getting out or leaning over the door when it’s open.

  11. duffysrepair says:

    I personally think one of the worst vehicle blind spots is the early 2000′s Toyota Celicas. I can not stand trying to back one of those things up into a parking space. Things are changing though – you are exactly right.

  12. I couldn’t agree more. My 2010 LaCrosse has some of the worst blind spots ever. Great article!

  13. izziedarling says:

    Amen! Just traded stupid blind spot Lexus SUV for MINI Cooper – now I can see everything, although everything might not see me. The Lexus dealership called me to try to get me to buy another, told salesperson I’d gotten MC and she started laughing – said she was shocked I’d choose MC over Lexus. But I can see and I’m the one laughing now. Good post.

  14. 20″ wheels the norm? I live the wrong side of the atlantic – my fiesta runs on pathetic 14′s.

    I agree totally about the design issues. Reducing visibility to acomodate safety features only increases the chances that the safety features will be called into action!

  15. I agree, I miss the open air feel of my ’66 chevelle malibu and even though my current project, a ’06 mustang, is a blast, it certainly is lacking in that classic feel.

    But I guess that raises the question, can we build a vehicle that’s so safe, we trip over the myriad of safety features? Is there a limit to how safe an automobile can be and still function?

    I suspect that companies like Honda (and their luxury doppelganger Acura) are so caught up in the “safety race” that they’re actually making their vehicles unsafer. I think many manufacturers are falling prey to this in effort to be “the safest car company” on the market.

    Interesting point!

    -Jonathan, The Secret Tree Hugger

  16. Interesting post! :) And a good point. Jeebus, it’s a wonder my grandfather is still ALIVE, let alone still driving. He’d kill someone in one of these things! Congrats on being fp’d!

  17. Maybe it’s my age, but cars, like a lot of things these days, are so boring to look at. They may be mechanically superior, but to me they all look the same. I guess those great works of art from the 50s and 60s (and a couple from the 70s?) aren’t practical anymore, but they were, as you said, more than just appliances for transporting you from place to place. For me, today’s cars are only appliances. Right, I’ll get back off to my retirement home.

  18. cheneetot08 says:

    Good Post! On the other hand Italian car’s rank high when it comes to finesse and style. Just don’t consider the other factors . =)

  19. Agrees on. More cars should be made with more views rather than views being blocked. I can imagine the part where passengers are drawn to their seats without so much of a view behind. More safer and clearer designs in future for automobile, hopefully.

  20. I drive a PT Cruiser and removed the rear headrests so as to see out the rear window. After driving a 1975 model car with excellent visibility, I also had to adjust to the limited visibility created by the stylised pillars.

    It is a great looking car and I love it, but the visibility sure is compromised.

    Good call Yankee Driver! And congrats on being freshly pressed.

  21. thecodger says:

    I agree that the car companies have to start making nicer cars for we senior citizens. We deserve it.

    I don’t have any visibility complaints about my Dodge Caliber. I picked it up during “Cash for Clunkers” and haven’t looked back since.

    The Codger

  22. yankeedriver says:

    Thanks for all the great comments, folks.

    The Fit is the one that really struck me as a complete design failure in terms of visibility. There was such an opportunity there to build a car that offered a line of sight in every direction and it fails miserably. Great little car, though.

  23. roger henry says:

    I don’t know. My 1928 Model A tudor is pretty tough to see out of too. Perhaps not just an issue with newer cars.