Mirrors have been a critical part of a vehicle since 1911, when Ray Harroun installed one in his Marmon Wasp race car for the first Indianapolis 500. Prior to that, the rear of a vehicle has been secured by a riding mechanic. Harroun’s rivals complained, and won approval. When he won the race, the use of rearview mirror has started to expand to other vehicles and lead to the obsolescence of the riding mechanic.
Now, an innovation is finding its way to the auto industry –cameras. With the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finalizing a mandate for rearview cameras last week, Tesla Motors Inc. and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers are petitioning for a permission to replace side mirrors with cameras. They do have a case, at least on paper.
Since cameras are smaller than side mirrors, they could aid aerodynamics and fuel economy. The cameras can also be located anywhere on the vehicle, while mirrors have to be fitted in the driver's line of sight. According to the petition, allowing carmakers use cameras would help them "innovate and address field of view, fuel economy and aerodynamics challenges for specific segments of vehicles."
Just like Harroun’s experience, Tesla and the alliance might have a hard securing permission for the side mirrors. Regulators and safety experts are concerned that replacing mirrors will place people at greater risk.
NHTSA told Automotive News in an e-mail that with safety as its highest priority, the agency will consider the new rulemaking petition and decide based on its merits. Tesla has been pressing for cameras to replace side mirrors since at least 2012, when it unveiled a concept version of its Model X that allows drivers to peek at display screens to check their blind spots.