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Iowa driver's education instructor's information

Lane changes: Head check versus mirror settings

At the Iowa Conference of Traffic Safety, jointly sponsored by the Iowa Traffic Control and Safety Association and the Iowa Association of Safety Education, held in Des Moines on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 2002, Dr. Terry Kline of the Traffic Safety Institute at Eastern Kentucky University presented a number of interesting topics of which one related to the setting of rear view mirrors. His studies show that on recently produced cars, all three mirrors (left outside, inside and right outside) may be set in such a way that the blind spot is eliminated. Eliminating the blind spot with mirrors would negate the need to do head checks prior to changing lanes. This office has since learned that some drivers education teachers are teaching their students about this "mirrors only" method of checking blind spots.

When students use only mirror adjustment to check for blind spots during their driving tests at the Iowa DOT driver's license stations or county treasurer's offices points have been deducted because the students did not do the head check prior to changing lanes. This has apparently caused some confusion. After consideration, the Iowa DOT has determined it will continue to require head checks prior to lane changes and deduct points if the head check is not used.

Mirror adjustment only to cover a blind spot is a good practice and teachers should continue to introduce it and head checks to their students. However, it is not universally understood by all applicants for licenses, it may not work in the variety of vehicles seen at licensing stations and treasurer's offices, and it is hard for the examiner to determine if the applicant is using the mirrors only method or the driver just forgot to do a very important step in the action of changing lanes.