Tesla Petitions for the Right to Replace Side Mirrors With Cameras

When you’re trying to squeeze as many miles as possible out of an electric engine, every little thing counts. Even the slightest changes in a vehicle’s design can have an impact on its fuel efficiency.

Electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors wants to take a crack at improving the fuel efficiency of its luxury electric cars — by replacing the bulky side mirrors currently sported by every car on the market with sleek, aerodynamic side cameras.

The company will be facing an uphill battle in its quest to make mirrorless cars a reality, given that a 1968 law enacted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires all passenger vehicles to have side mirrors. Tesla has filed a petition with the NHTSA to overturn this rule and allow cameras to do the job instead.

Would removing the side mirrors improve the car’s aerodynamics enough to even make a difference? Apparently Elon Musk isn’t the only one who thinks so. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers have come out in support of Tesla’s bid to allow alternatives to side mirrors, filing a petition of its own.

“Today’s mirrors provide a robust and simple means to view the surrounding areas of a vehicle,” said the Alliance in a statement. “Cameras will open opportunities for additional design flexibility and innovation.”

Heck, even scientists are for it. From Wired:

““Side mirrors do impact vehicle aerodynamics and fuel economy of vehicles,” says Don Anair of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “If deemed a safe alternative to conventional mirrors, the use of cameras could help in reducing fuel consumption.”

The science backs it up. In Aerodynamics of Road Vehicles, Wolf-Heinrich Hucho said exterior side view mirrors increases total aerodynamic drag by an average of 2 to 7 percent. That might not sound like much, but automakers are under increasing pressure to improve fuel efficiency. Eliminating mirrors is one of many tricks they’re counting on.”

Of course, not everyone agrees. One argument against replacing side mirrors comes from AutoNews, who cites safety concerns. The argument is that drivers could get used to this technology and stop taking safety as seriously — stop checking their blind spots and being as vigilant behind the wheel. This fear is even greater when it comes to older drivers, who historically have had a harder time adapting to new technology.

From Autonews:

“Because automakers put their latest technology into their most expensive cars, it tends to end up in the hands of older buyers. And research suggests that older buyers may be prone to misunderstanding the new technology.

For example, in a 2008 survey by [the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety], about 43 percent of older drivers who owned cars with adaptive cruise control incorrectly thought the technology would bring their car to a halt if it detected a stopped vehicle ahead.”

What do you think? Should we embrace the future and adopt a mirrorless approach, or stick with what we know?