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In Defense of Rearview Mirrors & Other Things

You don’t want to write that one. They’re about to be mandatory in all vehicles. You’ll have egg on your face.

That’s what Jessica wrote in response to my desire to write about why I don’t exactly think backup cams are all that great. But, hey, I’m 23. This is likely one of the only things I get to be super fussy and a reactionary about, so just let me have this one precious moment of finger waving and judgment.

You see, when I first got my license back in the old days – in 2006, the year Justin brought sexy back, kids – my mom handed me the keys to a behemoth 1997 GMC Yukon, a car that has arguably some of the worst blind spots around and a high center of gravity. I named her Phoebe, and over our many years together, we have driven countless miles, crossed the country a total of four times, and never once been involved in a car accident.

I’m not going to tell you that I’m the best driver around. I think I’m a good driver, but I’m certain there are people who would say I’m actually awful (Jessica thinks I drive like a grandma). What I will tell you is the reason why my mom gave me Phoebe: to keep me safe.

In my mom’s mind, it was better to hedge her bets and put me in the biggest car possible so as to minimize the damage on impact, should I ever have an accident. Of course, the flipside of that logic was that my being in a car like Phoebe would most likely maximize the damage to the other car. And there you have it, kids, my Uncle Ben responsibility origin story.

Over the years, I have grown to know my car intimately. I know where my blind spots are, and I know how to check them. I know how to maintain speed and make a sharp turn without flipping over. And I know how long it takes my car to come to a full stop. This intimate knowledge, more than any skill on my part, is what has kept me from causing damage to myself and others while on the road. It is the same knowledge that helped me maintain control and be the only car to not crash when all traffic lost control and slid down a snowy road in New Jersey two winters ago.

But none of that has to do with backup cams, necessarily. What does is the woman in central Jersey who, after many embarrassing minutes trying to parallel park her car, decided to throw up her arms and get out to apologize to the crowd that had gathered to watch her struggle. I happened to be walking by at that same moment and offered to help. I imagined I would simply guide her – she was, after all, trying to park on a curve. Instead, the distraught woman handed me her keys and said, “Here, you can do it.”

So there I was, sitting inside a nice lady’s brand new Lexus. I pulled out and forward, so as to reposition the car. As I backed into the spot, I wondered: This is a large enough spot, why couldn’t she do it? I looked around the car, realizing that there was a backup cam I hadn’t noticed. And it hit me: this poor woman had made absolutely no effort to look anywhere else but that small screen.

My point is not to say that backup cams are bad or otherwise useless. It is simply to suggest that we still need to get to know our cars. No amount of technology can replace knowing how far ahead or behind you a car actually is. Or exactly how sharp the curve of the street is that you’re trying to park on. Sure, backup cams can help you avoid hitting a small child hiding behind your car (as has happened to someone I know), but they can’t replace your own sense of space. And antilock brakes can’t always keep you from losing control of your car (as I learned).

So, before we go around saying that it’s irresponsible to buy a car without backup cams (ahem, Jessica), or planning for a future without sideview mirrors, let’s first check our ideological blind spots and acknowledge one simple fact: you are behind the wheel, not your technology. And it’s foolish to tout backup cams as some utopic automotive wonder.

Get to know your car, people. I promise it’s worth it.

3 thoughts on “In Defense of Rearview Mirrors & Other Things”

  1. I totally need a backup cam. That’s the only way I learned how to parallel park. I have no depth perception!

  2. Wendy Goldman Scherer

    I’ve never driven a car with a backup cam, but have been a passenger in one. What an interesting thought though. I know my car really, really well – and think that’s important. Are backup cams good? Better? I don’t know! (PS I’m a great parallel parker!)

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