COVID-19 has changed many aspects of our lives, but one change that has been the most visible has been the use of masks. Masks are now mandatory in grocery stores, malls, coffee shops, restaurants, and indoor spaces that can be accessed by the public.
Having to have a mask with you at all times means it will inevitably end up in your car. A common (and dangerous) trend we see on our roadways is motorists hanging their masks from the rearview mirror of their car when not in use. This seemingly trivial act can have dangerous implications for all road users and should be avoided.
Hanging Masks Create an Additional (and Unnecessary) Blind Spot
We've all heard of or have been taught to be aware of blind spots when driving a car. In fact, they are a big reason why we hit things with our cars. Below is an image showing the common blind spots motorists experience while driving their vehicle.
The trend of hanging a mask from your rearview mirror actually blocks your forward view of the roadway, creating a new blind spot out of the front windshield. This is especially dangerous because anything that obstructs a driver's view out of their windshield could mean that a driver won't see a traffic signal, pedestrian, cyclist, or another vehicle. It could also result in the hazard not becoming visible until it is too late to react and avoid a collision.
A recent AAA release states "in a typical city, a motorist encounters as many as 200 different situations per mile. The eyes provide nearly all of the information needed to respond to road conditions, traffic patterns, signals, and signs." The AAA release continues, "Obstructing this field of vision, even partially, can cause you to miss things that should be seen, such as signs, pedestrians, wildlife, motorcycles, bikes, or other vehicles."
In fact, section 73(1)(b) of the Highway Traffic Act makes it an offence to drive a vehicle with any object placed in, hung on, or attached to the motor vehicle, in a manner that will obstruct the driver's view of the highway or any intersecting highway.
Leaving aside the chances of a ticket (and fine), it just makes sense not to block your view of the road by hanging a mask from your rearview mirror.
Masks are another Distraction for Drivers
When drivers hang their masks from their rearview mirror, the result is that the mask becomes a visual distraction when driving. Visual distractions have been proven by studies to create a slower reaction time in drivers to sudden and critical events.1
With a mask constantly dangling, the driver becomes accustomed to this constant movement at the edge of their field of vision, so they notice movements outside the vehicle much later, say the experts at DEKRA Accident Research, a global vehicle inspection company.2 The consequence is that drivers are less likely to notice the movement of cyclists and pedestrians, potentially causing serious collisions.
The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) warns that distracted driving is a threat to everyone on the road because "distracted drivers are 3 times more likely to be in a crash than attentive drivers."3 Reducing all distractions when driving, especially hanging masks, is an important way to ensure the driver's focus is on the road and on their driving.
In Ontario, deaths from collisions caused by distracted driving have doubled since 2000. Ontario data on collisions show one person is injured in a distracted-driving collision every half hour.
Visual distractions are actually one of the more common types of distractions for most drivers. These are distractions that take the driver's eyes and focus off the road, even for mere seconds. Any type of visual distraction will keep the driver from focusing straight ahead where they're supposed to be looking to drive safely.
Visual driving distractions, whether they're intended or not, can disrupt perception, recognition, and other cognitive behaviors.
There are three main types of visual distractions while driving:
The first type is where the visual field of the driver is blocked.
The second is when the driver doesn't look at these areas and focuses instead for a certain period of time on a different visual object, creating an issue with safe driving.
The third is where the driver's attention wanders from being distracted from their driving.
Placing a mask on your rearview mirror can result in any one or all of these three types of visual distractions and impede safe driving.
How to Safely Store your Mask when Driving
Drivers should take care to minimize all risks and distractions when driving, and removing their masks from their rearview mirrors is a simple way to improve their safety and the safety of others on the road.
There are many places to store your masks which don't impede your vision while driving. Place your mask in any one of the storage compartments, cup holders, or empty seats in your car. Place it in your purse, bag, or jacket. Just don't hang it from your rearview mirror where it blocks your vision.
1. Elke Muhrer and Mark Vollrath, "The effect of visual and cognitive distraction on driver's anticipation in a simulated car following scenario," (2011) Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour - Special Issue: Driving Simulation in Traffic Psychology, Vol 16, Issue 6, pages 555-566, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trf.2011.06.003.
2. "DEKRA experts warn against hanging face masks in your field of vision: Rear-View Mirror is Not a Clothes Hook," July 1, 2020, https://www.dekra.com/en/rear-view-mirror-is-not-a-clothes-hook/
3. "Distraction behind the wheel is killing more Canadians than impaired driving," https://caaniagara.ca/community/distracted-driving.
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