'Car visibility getting worse', says Which? CarCars are now safer and stronger, but at what cost?

19 February 2010

Rear view from 1997 Vauxhall Astra

A cyclist can be seen fairly clearly out the back of a 1997 Mk3 Vauxhall Astra

As cars are becoming safer and stronger, drivers’ views are becoming more restricted, says Which? Car as it reveals the best and worst car visibility scores.

All-round visibility is generally worse than it was around 15 years ago. Car roof and door pillars have been strengthened and have grown from barely noticeable strips to thick chunks of metal. Our photos of a cyclist from the driver's seat of the popular Vauxhall Astra, right, clearly show the problem.

Vehicle blind spots account for around 1% of all accidents. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) calculates that eliminating them would prevent around 25 fatal accidents each year.

New Which? Car visibility tests

Rear view from 2009 Vauxhall Astra

Small windows and a wide C pillar create a large blind spot in the 2009 Astra

In Which? Car’s tests (of all 160 cars we assessed during 2009), the Smart ForTwo Coupé comes out top for driver’s vision with a visibility score of 64.8%, aided by its lack of a B pillar (usually found between a car’s front and rear doors). The (58.7%) is second and the (58.2%) is third. 

The raised driving position in the Ford Galaxy MPV (57.4%) brings benefits for the driver’s line of sight, as it does to a lesser extent in the (56.2%).

At the bottom of the list, convertibles such as the Porsche Boxster (31.4%), (38.7%) and (39.4%) rate poorly, though obviously their view improves considerably once the roof is down. 

Honda Civic offers poor rear visibility

Honda Civic's split rear screen severely restricts the driver's view out the back

And there are issues with the futuristic (37.6%), which has a split rear screen that does rear visibility no favours.

Safety needn't limit visibility

Which? Car editor, Richard Headland, says: 'It’s vital to make sure a car protects its occupants in a crash, but accident research – and common sense – suggest that crashes are more likely if visibility is reduced. This is of particular concern for more vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

'Some models that score well for visibility in our tests also achieve good crash-test results, showing it is perfectly possible to design safe cars with good visibility. Which? Car is calling on calls on manufacturers to do all they can to make life easier for drivers and we have drawn up a list of recommendations to make conditions safer.'

Which? Car recommends:

  • Cars should have a better field of vision, especially in the A pillar (front roof pillar) area and C pillar (rear-most pillar) area.
  • There should be improvement in side impact protection for all vehicles.
  • Electronic ‘junction assistants’ should be introduced.
  • Head curtain airbags should be installed as standard.

Watch Which? Car on The One Show

For more on this story, watch Which? editor Martyn Hocking on the One Show from 18th February (available on BBC iPlayer for one week).

The Spring 2010 issue of Which? Car, containing the full visibility feature, plus exclusive research into buying cars online, car headlight bulbs and our latest child car seat crash tests, is on sale now in Sainsbury’s. From Monday 22nd February, it's also available at Tesco, WHSmith, Martin McColl and other leading independent newsagents.


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**The Vauxhall Astra Mk3 model (1991-98) dates from a time before Which? testing began in its current format, but in pictures the increase in pillar thickness can clearly be seen. Pictures available on request.