The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration passed a law yesterday forcing new cars in the US to come with standard backup cameras by May 2018, and if Tesla has its way, this could be just the beginning of changing how motorists see out of their vehicles. The electric car manufacturer has teamed up with the 12-member Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers lobbying group (which represents major companies like General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen) and filed a petition on Monday asking NHTSA for permission to replace sideview mirrors with cameras.

Currently, side mirrors are required on cars in the US, and they can't legally be replaced by camera technologies filling a similar role. The petitioners' chief argument is that sideview mirrors add drag and decrease fuel economy. According to Automotive News, Tesla founder Elon Musk has been lobbying for laws that allow automakers to use sideview camera systems exclusively for the last two years, but claims it's nearly impossible for a single person to change the regulations.

Sideview cameras have been on concept cars for decades, but augmenting external visibility with cameras and sensors has been a growing trend in production automotive technology over the last five years or so. Nissan uses its Around View Monitor to supplement mirrors with a bird's eye composite view of the vehicle during tight maneuvers, and the LaneWatch system from Honda displays a rear-facing passenger-side view to eliminate blind spots during lane changes. Tesla's early Model X concept (pictured above) had small pods on the side with cameras mounted in them, but more recent versions have switched to conventional mirrors.

Regulations tend to move slowly within NHTSA – it delayed passing the backup camera standard five times since 2011. One day, new cars will probably drop side mirrors entirely, but that leap is still probably many years away.


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  • 113 Comments
      b.rn
      • 9 Months Ago
      "National Highway Traffic Safety Administration passed a law yesterday " I didn't know NHTSA could pass laws.
        icemilkcoffee
        • 9 Months Ago
        @b.rn
        It is called an 'administrative law', sometimes known as rules and regulations. Regulatory agencies pass administrative laws all the time.
      clquake
      • 9 Months Ago
      Cameras fail all the time. So what happens when drivers become so stupid that they can't turn their head? You laugh now, but every year, I have to help someone get into their car when the remote battery dies, and they just can't figure out how to put the key into a hole and turn.
      Cool Disco Dan
      • 9 Months Ago
      More things to go wrong.
      Spec
      • 9 Months Ago
      What heck has happened to the comment system? It is borked badly.
      Dynamho
      • 8 Months Ago
      Bring back hood mounted mirrors. :Þ
      Neil Blanchard
      • 8 Months Ago
      I have been driving with side view video mirrors for almost 5 years now. http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/2010/09/eyes-forward-video-mirrors-on-my-xa.html http://ecomodder.com/forum/showthread.php/scion-xa-aero-mods-2969-48.html#post398017 Video mirrors have several advantages to optical mirrors, and one or two weaknesses. Video mirrors have no blind spots, they work better in the rain and at dusk. They reduce the frontal area *and* they improve the Cd, and they reduce the noise caused by air turbulence. The specific cameras I am using are sometimes hard to see well in very bright sunshine, and in full darkness they lose some detail. I did a lousy job of installing the wiring on the driver’s side unit, and this caused some problems, but I have now corrected that. I’d recommend at least 7″ diagonal LED backlit monitors, and installing them in many cars will require changes to the dash or doors. My Scion xA has the instrument cluster in the deep center of the dash, so the two monitors can be located right next to each other directly in front of the driver. So, a quick glance down lets me see *both* sides of the car at the same time. I can see directly behind my car (with a small slice of the sides of my car as reference) all the way up to beside my shoulders. A car that has only it rear bumper lined up with my shoulders is visible in the video mirrors. No blind spots and well over 180 degrees of view. The driver does need to get used to video mirrors. I have a very small optical mirror on the drivers side, for when my old habit of looking there and for when I am opening the door after parking (the video mirrors turn off when the car is turned off). Also, you have to learn the “scale” of cars behind you – just like the convex optical mirror on the passenger’s side. If you see a car in the video mirror, it is good to then turn your head to look and see it directly – this is best practice anyway, but more so with video mirrors. Higher resolution cameras and monitors would be great, too. I’ve got some nice 9″ monitors that I will be using in my CarBEN EV5 electric car prototype. I can confirm the reduction in area is about 1 square foot in total, which is about a 3-4% reduction in area. The Cd reduction is a bit harder to know precisely, but I have done coastdown tests, and along with my other aero mods, I estimate that the xA has dropped from 0.31 to about 0.26-0.27. My FE is averaging 50%+ year round vs the EPA Combined rating for the xA (46MPG vs 30MPG). Sincerely, Neil
        DarylMc
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Neil Blanchard
        Hello Neil That was very interesting and thanks for sharing your information. What is the legal status of your modifications? Is it likely to cause you any problems?
          Neil Blanchard
          • 8 Months Ago
          @DarylMc
          Hi Daryl, I have to reinstall the optical mirrors in order to pass the safety inspection. It takes rough 1/2 an hour. It's a pain, but that's the way it is.
      SpikedLemon
      • 8 Months Ago
      I'm in favor of cameras to replace mirrors that are ON all the time so long as the screen is absolutely visible in ALL light conditions (we've all struggled to read a phones outside in the sun and to lose a mirror because it's sunny outside should be criminal). Current rear-view cameras are only enabled when the vehicle is in reverse; this is just crap.
      Levine Levine
      • 8 Months Ago
      The same government regulators required only one driver-side mirror up until the 70s before requiring to two. Now they're hooked on two; got no room for technology; can't think outside the box.
      juggernaut
      • 9 Months Ago
      The Tesla X-wing has suicide doors?
      Joeviocoe
      • 9 Months Ago
      Not only would side view cameras have much less aero drag... they would be safer to use at night if they can utilize infrared capable cameras. On dark highways, a driver must rely on seeing the headlights of cars moving into or out of their blind spot... because the car itself may bet too dark to see in the mirror. Sometimes with multi-lane highways, it is easy to mistake the headlight projections for cars in other lanes besides the adjacent lanes. And easy to mistake the distances. Basically, with mirrors, there is no choice but to physically turn the head and look at blind spots... and even then, it may be very dark to see with just a short glance. So taking the eyes and head away from their forward position.. has been a very dangerous behavior that kills people every year. We should not be reliant on manually checking blind spots and having such degraded viewing during dark hours, fog, rain, show, etc. Cameras can peer through such things easily.
        clquake
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        On dark roads, cars that have their headlights on are always visible, you don't have to actually see the car to know that the car is there, headlights give off...LIGHT. LIGHTS, that you know, LIGHT up the road in front of any car. I don't know how you've manage to survive driving at night. If you manage to hit something in the .5 seconds it takes to see if it's clear, you're either going too fast, following too closely, or you just can't drive.
        msspamrefuge
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        "So taking the eyes and head away from their forward position.. has been a very dangerous behavior that kills people every year." To facilitate a continuous distraction like texting, yes. Mirror use? I think not, especially since your sight orientation is still forward, albeit diagonally. Still, it's not as if the forward-most direction of travel is relegated to the extremes of your peripheral vision. Your seat is in dire need of adjustment if it is.
        Joeviocoe
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        Some cars have lights that need adjusting and are pointed down MANY cars have broken headlights. MANY MANY cars tend to forget to turn on headlights at dusk. Bike lanes. There are many reasons why your reliance of subtle hints of the car next to you are not as safe as they could be. Why rely on the compliance of other drivers?
      sixsix
      • 8 Months Ago
      Cars without mirrors look TERRIBLE. Please Musk, stop. The only option is to have both. The visual pollution from cars without mirrors is far worse than the drag and lost gas mileage created by them. We all know by know man made global warming is a scam anyways. Big Green = Big Oil. Different sides of the same coin.
      over9000
      • 9 Months Ago
      great... here comes the $2000 repair bill to fix the damaged camera.
        Bernard
        • 9 Months Ago
        @over9000
        The camera itself is $40 at most and the labor can be done by any electronics repair shop. You don't have to go to the stealership. Fortunately, Tesla doesn't have those...
        NamorF-Pro
        • 8 Months Ago
        @over9000
        And before you get it replaced you get more bills for running into ppl cuz your "mirrors" don't work. Lmao!
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