Tesla’s latest innovation in drivable art is the 2022 Cybertruck, a futuristic truck with sports car performance. When you happen across a picture of the Cybertruck, one of the first things you might notice (after the “Wow! Is this for real?” reaction) is that it doesn’t have any side view mirrors—not even on the driver’s side. That begs the question: is it even legal to have a vehicle with no exterior side mirrors?
US laws require that all passenger vehicles, including trucks, have exterior side mirrors and interior rearview mirrors that provide a view of the road surface extending behind the vehicle. To ensure safety with mirrorless vehicles, only the EU and Japan currently allow mirrors to be replaced by cameras, although the US may not be far behind.
So what are the more than 1,000,000 people who’ve reserved a Cybertruck going to do? Stick with us to get the latest info on Cybertruck’s design and compliance with the law.
The Cybertruck Challenges Traditional Laws
One look at the Cybertruck, and it’s obvious that car design as we know it is on the verge of change. With the Cybertruck, Elon Musk and Tesla exploded the boundaries that have only been poked at with previous innovations in vehicle designs.
Not only is it sleek in a stainless steel skin and Tesla armor glass, but the Cybertruck is functional. It can handle a cargo load of up to 3500 pounds and tow 7500 pounds without sacrificing handling and energy efficiency. Along with this heavy-duty work ethic, the Cybertruck offers exceptional traction control, which allows it to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6.5 seconds.
Why Does the Cybertruck Lack Side Mirrors?
The Cybertruck is a super-efficient, all-electric vehicle (EV) boasting a range anywhere from 250 to 500 miles on one charge.
It’s that drive to be as energy-efficient as possible that led to Tesla’s decision to eliminate traditional side-view mirrors. Any feature that protrudes from the main body of a vehicle causes wind resistance, which affects fuel consumption, or, in the case of EVs, energy efficiency.
In general, a 10% decrease in wind resistance will increase highway fuel economy by 5% and city driving efficiency by 2%. We can only assume that those stats will be similar for EVs. That may not seem like much, but multiplied over millions of vehicles, it adds up to significant energy savings globally.
Is Eliminating Side Mirrors on a Vehicle Legal?
So, if eliminating side mirrors results in improved energy efficiency, that’s a good thing, right?
It is, but it can’t be done at the expense of safety. Side mirrors have been an accepted vehicle safety feature since the 1960s and are now required by law in the United States. Being able to see what’s behind and beside your car as you drive is crucial to the safety of the vehicle and any pedestrians or objects around it.
What Does the Cybertruck Use in Place of Side Mirrors?
Tesla’s first side mirror-less car was the Model X which rolled out in 2013, but then, as now, the law required manufacturers to include side mirrors on their vehicles. So, the company had to add traditional side mirrors to the final design. Now, here comes Cybertruck sans side mirrors too. What’s different?
The Cybertruck design boasts a camera in its two front fenders, one on each side. They give the driver a sweeping view down the sides of the vehicle and send images to a screen visible to the driver inside.
At least with this camera monitoring system (CMS), Cybertruck doesn’t leave the driver blind to what’s happening outside the vehicle. In fact, the CMS may actually give the driver better visibility than traditional mirrors. The driver’s range of view is extended with the side camera system, and blind spots are a thing of the past.
However, even if that’s true, the CMS doesn’t comply with the law as currently stated. One primary concern with the placement of these rearview cameras on the front fenders is obscured visibility. If owners use their Cybertruck like any other pickup, taking it off-road occasionally, they may find the camera covered in mud, dirt, water, snow, and ice, and other road debris. Of course, this can also happen during highway driving too.
Where is the Image Displayed Within the Cybertruck?
With the Cybertruck still in the prototype phase, no one knows for sure where the side camera images would be displayed. Obviously, they would have to be visible to the driver at a quick glance without requiring much head movement.
Speculation by InsideEV suggests that Tesla would mount the image display screens at the bottom of the A-pillars; the A-pillars are located where the front doors meet the windshield. Another possibility is for the images to display on the 17-inch screen that runs horizontally along the dashboard.
Other vehicles—the Audi e-Tron, for example—that have done away with the side mirrors have placed the image displays in the upper door trim even with the outer edge of the dashboard. Some have mounted the display screen within the A-pillars.
Where the side camera images are displayed is one of the concerns about switching to the CMS instead of traditional mirrors. One of the first things young drivers learn is quickly glancing over at the side view mirrors.
What Does the Current Law Say About Rear Visibility?
FMVSS 111 addresses rear visibility for all vehicles except for school buses. According to NHTSA, or National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—which oversees the laws and regulations regarding vehicle safety—all cars, trucks, and other passenger vehicles must have an interior rearview mirror and, at a minimum, a driver’s side exterior side-view mirror that provides the driver a view of the road beside and behind them.
Side View Mirrors
The purpose of side-view mirrors is to see what is beside the car on both sides. Side mirrors are particularly useful when backing into tight spaces and when changing lanes. But if you’ve driven at all, you know the view isn’t always completely clear.
There is something called a blind spot that prevents the driver from seeing a nearby vehicle that enters this area. To overcome this, a driver must literally turn his head to be able to see the approaching vehicle.
Side view mirrors have been designed to provide the widest possible range of vision, and the law gives detailed specs on what this range must be. Specifically and, in very technical terms, the law states:
“The driver’s side rearview mirror is required to be a plane mirror that provides ‘the driver a view of a level road surface extending to the horizon from a line, perpendicular to a longitudinal plane tangent to the driver’s side of the vehicle at the widest point, extending 2.4m (7.9 ft) out from the tangent plane to 10.7m (35.1 ft) behind the driver’s eyes, with the seat in the rearmost position.”
There are no specific requirements for the field of vision specs for passenger side-view mirrors. Exterior mirrors are not allowed to protrude out farther than the widest part of the vehicle body unless it’s needed to meet or exceed the field of view requirements.
While side view cameras are not explicitly banned in vehicles, there is currently no provision in FMVSS 111 that allows for a passenger vehicle to NOT have side-view mirrors. They are still required in the United States.
Interior rearview mirrors have been federally regulated since 1976, when they became a required safety feature. Rearview mirrors were designed to reduce deaths and accidents that result when a driver cannot clearly see—with no obstructions—behind the vehicle.
FMVSS 111 states that this interior mirror must have a 20-degree wide viewing range and also “provide a view of a level road surface extending to the horizon beginning not more than 200 free (61 m) behind the vehicle.”
There haven’t been any changes to the current rearview mirror laws, and they are still required on most vehicles. However, in 2018, the US enacted a major change that requires backup cameras and interior video display of the images to be a standard and required safety feature on every newly manufactured vehicle.
Are There Plans to Change Side Mirror Laws?
While carmakers revamp and release new automobile designs every year, changes in the laws around safety features are slow in coming. Governmental agencies that regulate such things seemingly adhere to the motto “first do no harm.”
It doesn’t mean that change can never happen. Certainly, we’ve seen how changes in seat belt laws, child locks, and lane departure warning systems have impacted vehicle design and safety. But they came after much research and testing to make sure there was no negative impact.
Safe design must be integrated with other considerations like vehicle weight, load capacity, energy efficiency, and aerodynamics. In 2014, carmakers (including Tesla) in the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers submitted a petition to NHTSA to allow the use of cameras in place of side mirrors. Another petition by Daimler AG in 2015 added to the clamor. In October 2019, Audi of America requested an exemption for FMVSS 111.
It appears that Tesla is banking on the demand for change in the current side mirror law that would support the mirror-less design of Cybertruck. Whether or not that is what actually happens remains to be seen.
The Legality of Using Cameras in Place of Mirrors
As a result of all the petitions, NHTSA agreed to research the use of camera monitoring systems instead of side mirrors. Of course, early studies used older camera technology, and NHTSA’s 2018 report found safety concerns, such as:
- Sunlight glare on the cameras at certain angles
- Excessive headlight glare on the cameras at night
- Water droplets that obscured the image
- Effects of polarized sunglasses when viewing the display image
Another concern was driver acclimation to the new camera system. Longtime habits of glancing into an exterior rearview mirror have to be replaced with new muscle memory—a glance at the interior display mounted in a different place than drivers are used to. Such a change can disorient drivers at first.
To address these concerns, it has been suggested that additional research should be done using the latest camera technology. Today’s smartphones boast cameras with higher resolution images and video than the early backup cameras in cars.
Backup camera technology has come a long way since the 2000s, when they were first introduced to the mass market. Image clarity has improved significantly, and backup cameras have proven to be an effective safety device for reducing rear-vehicle crashes and pedestrian accidents.
It makes sense, then, that NHTSA could and should revisit the side mirror laws using research with the latest in camera technology. If it works for improving rear visibility, it should work for side visibility too.
Are Side View Cameras Legal in Other Countries?
The United States lags behind other countries in adapting current laws to accommodate the latest technology in vehicle design. Cars with camera systems instead of actual side view mirrors have been on the roads in other countries since at least 2018.
In 1981, The Economic Commission for Europe established provisions for indirect monitoring devices such as mirrors and cameras. This provision was amended twice in 2008 to ultimately allow the installation of indirect vision systems with no specific performance requirements
The Audi e-Tron SUV and the Honda-e are both electric vehicles without side-view mirrors that have been on the road in Europe since 2018-2019.
The laws in Japan require that some type of system, either mirrors, camera, or another device, be in place so that a driver can see the presence of the equivalent to a six-year-old child on the driver’s side of the vehicle. As long as that visibility is available to the driver, there is no specific type of device that must be used.
Toyota already markets a Lexus ES with side-view cameras in Japan, and other manufacturers are sure to follow.
Canada’s laws regarding rear visibility and side view mirrors are nearly identical to the laws in the US. There must be an interior rearview mirror and a side-view mirror on the driver’s side. If the interior mirror doesn’t meet the 20-degree range extending to the horizon requirements, then a passenger-side mirror is also mandated.
What If the Side Mirror Law Doesn’t Change?
Tesla first introduced its Model X without side mirrors in 2013, but when the car actually hit production, the design included mirrors.
If NHTSA does not change the current mirror laws before the Tesla Cybertruck begins production in late 2021 or 2022, the car manufacturer will have no choice but to add side mirrors. Considering it took ten years from initial request to final changes for the law regarding backup cameras to pass, the prospects seem unlikely.
According to Teslarati, a concept artist is already anticipating the need to add side view mirrors. His ideas for side mirrors show them having the same angular and sleek look as the Cybertruck’s overall design. With a size that fits well with the truck’s size, these imagined side mirrors maintain the futuristic look of this pickup.
Other Traditional Features Missing from the Cybertruck
Just one look at Cybertruck, and you know the future has arrived. It is reminiscent of the DeLorean car immortalized in the Back to the Future movies in the 1980s. But this truck pushes the envelope even further than the DeLorean did back in the day.
Not only is Tesla’s pickup truck missing the side mirrors, but the prototypes that have been seen at car shows and on the streets also lack a few other features that have been standard on vehicles for years:
- The interior rearview mirror has also been replaced with a camera and display system.
- There is no apparent front bumper.
- Windshield wipers are nowhere to be found on the prototypes that have been spotted.
- Turn signals appear to be nonexistent.
- Traditional front headlights separated by the car grille have been replaced with a single, integrated light bar going across the car’s front.
- The standard third brake light has also been omitted from Cybertruck’s design.
- A round steering wheel has been replaced with a rectangular version about 6 x 12 inches in size.
In addition, Cybertruck’s tires extend beyond the wheel wells, which, while it gives the truck an edgy and aggressive appearance, is currently illegal in the United States.
On the interior, the dashboard appears to look substantially different than vehicles on the market right now. It’s much sleeker, but no one knows for sure what specific changes have been designed into the controls.
If you want to see for yourself what Cybertruck is like, check out this video of Jay Leno and Elon Musk taking it for a spin.
With Cybertruck scheduled to roll off production lines in 2022, buyers may want to stay abreast of the US regulations around exterior mirrors. It would be a shame to spend almost $40,000 on a truck that can’t be driven legally on the street.
Hopefully, car manufacturers can work with NHTSA to affect changes in the laws that will allow Cybertruck and other forward-design vehicles to lead the charge towards energy-efficient electric vehicles with safety design features suitable for the 21st century.