Backup-camera systems that give drivers a view behind the car are becoming increasingly common on new cars, and studies suggest that they do indeed reduce the odds of accidentally backing into things. But paradoxically, they can present their own dangers. What you need to know to use your car’s backup camera safely…

A glance is not enough. The display screen—in the dashboard or rearview mirror—usually is small, so you must pay close attention to spot all but the largest obstacles. And don’t neglect to also look back over your shoulder to check whether there is anything just out of the viewing area of the camera.

The view varies greatly from vehicle to vehicle. Some backup cameras show a full 180-degree span behind the vehicle…others as little as 130 degrees. The narrower field of view could miss an obstacle…but the wider view distorts the image, making things look farther away than they really are. Take special care when driving a vehicle, such as a rental car, that has a different field of view than your own vehicle.

You can become too dependent. Once you drive a car with a backup camera for a while, it’s easy to forget how to safely back up if, say, your car’s camera is covered by dirt or snow. Clean an obstructed lens as soon as possible.

“Around View” systems are available in some new vehicles, especially Infiniti and Nissan models, with more on the way. They have cameras arrayed all around the vehicle, showing potential hazards on all sides. Consider choosing a vehicle equipped with this sort of system.

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