Peterbilt's digital mirrors a giant leap forward in how drivers look backward

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Updated Jun 4, 2024
driver inside a truck cab
Peterbilt's platform uses a single High Dynamic Range (HDR) camera integrated into the driver side mirror head and two HDR cameras integrated into the passenger side mirror head, each featuring hydrophobic lenses to repel water, ice and dust which ensures visibility during harsh conditions.

Peterbilt in April introduced its new Digital Vision System-Mirrors (DVS-M) for models 579 and 567, an electric camera and monitor system that supplements standard side mirrors for better visibility, safety and up to a 1.5% fuel economy improvement. 

The rear-view side mirror has been a safety standard since the 1960s – about 50 years after Ray Harroun first strapped one to the cowl of his Marmon Wasp before running (and winning) the 1911 Indy 500. Until recently, there's not been a lot of innovation in the business of looking backward.

[Related: Test driving Stoneridge’s MirrorEye rearview camera system]

Checking the mirror is a pretty analog process: you whip your head in either direction, give the glass a peak and do your thing. Maybe you need to rock or lean in the seat a little. But those days are long behind us now. 

Cameras in a Peterbilt mirrorPeterbilt's platform uses a single High Dynamic Range (HDR) camera integrated into the driver side mirror head and two HDR cameras integrated into the passenger side mirror head, each featuring hydrophobic lenses to repel water, ice and dust which ensures visibility during harsh conditions.Peterbilt's platform uses a single High Dynamic Range (HDR) camera integrated into the driver side mirror head and two HDR cameras integrated into the passenger side mirror head, each featuring hydrophobic lenses to repel water, ice and dust, which ensures visibility during poor conditions.

The DVS-M helps improve driver safety by reducing blind spots, providing clear visibility during inclement weather and by reducing the distraction of headlight glare at night. It also has an automatic camera defrost when temperatures reach below 43°F. Defrost wasn't a feature that came in too handy for my super-sexy Model 579 EPIQ over 100 or so miles around Denton and McKinney, Texas, where temps hardly dipped below 80°F.

I think it's important to note here that the new Digital Vision System-Mirrors isn't a mirrorless platform, nor is it a mirror replacement. Stoneridge, a pioneer in commercial truck camera systems, has an exemption for its aftermarket suite that allows it to remove mirrors at the time of install, but that exemption doesn't cover truck manufacturers who are federally required to affix traditional mirrors. As such, Pete's DVS-M are integrated into a pair of hyper-aerodynamic mirrors, which is where the fuel economy improvement comes from. Peterbilt's DVS-M system is built on Stoneridge's platform, but it's tailored for the truck, including a driver interface that is fairly simple and straightforward. 

The inclusion of standard mirrors provides a layer of redundancy in the unlikely event of a system failure, but the cameras also provide a wider field of view than the glass mirrors, expanding just how much the driver can see around them. 

"You can't have too much visibility," noted Jacob White, product marketing director for Peterbilt, adding that glass mirrors also help ease drivers into the use of the new technology. "I think some people want a transition, and having the flat glass there does that."

Peterbilt monitor and mirrorThe monitor gives drivers a wider field of view than a standard mirror and is easier to see in low-light conditions.Much of the portion of U.S. Highway 380 I traveled was three lanes. When I was in the far right lane and wanted to move into the middle lane, I could see in the monitor all the way into the far left lane before making the lane change, possibly avoiding an incident where a left lane rider decides to merge into the middle about the same time I do. Distance markers also make that decision easier, showing the end of the trailer and two customizable distance intervals behind it, allowing the driver to know with certainty how far a car is trailing the rig, or how close they are to bumping a dock. 

Cameras, controlled by the joystick interface to the driver's left on the door panel, are viewed on two large high-definition interior monitors. The driver side monitor is 12.3-inches, and the passenger side monitor is 15-inches. Both are strategically placed on the A-pillars to avoid disruption in windshield visibility and to allow continued use of standard glass. They're each easy to see without being in the way or in your face. 

The monitors can be viewed in three layouts: traditional, panoramic or expanded on the passenger side, and also feature vision enhancements, including automatic trailer tracking and panning, infrared night vision and clear inclement weather vision.

It came a torrential deluge overnight and into the morning I arrived into Denton, but that gave way to chamber of commerce weather over most of our drive. We did get a few teaspoons of light sprinkling rain briefly, but it wasn't even enough to activate the wipers, much less challenge the camera system. 

I did, however, use the trailer tracking feature, and I love it. We parked the truck for a meal stop at Paccar-owned component manufacturer and assembler Dynacraft in McKinney – a parking lot not set up for an 80,000 pound rig more than 70 feet long. It wasn't easy to get the truck in our out, but the panning camera let me watch the trailer tandems to avoid curbs (narrowly), trees (even more narrowly) and shrubbery. It's a handy feature in any turn scenario, but it really shines when every inch matters. 

During the day I usually found myself checking first the glass mirrors (old habits die hard) and confirming what I saw with the monitor since it was picking up a broader range than the mirrors. At night, I noticed these roles reverse. The infrared-enhanced image quality coming from the camera system compared to looking into a dark mirror is like night and day. I almost exclusively used the monitors after the sun went down because visibility was so much better. 

The monitors feature an auto adjusting brightness to avoid driver interaction while on the road, so there wasn't anything for me to do as the sun went down and the moon came out. Screen brightness at night is perfect: well lit enough that the driver can easily see alongside and behind the rig, but not so bright that it's problematic looking forward. From the placement of the cameras and monitors to the auto-adjusting features, the entire platform is very much out of the way. It's very neatly packaged and tucked in just the right spots. 

When I drove Stoneridge's system in 2020 I noted that I found backing difficult, but I've gotten better (marginally) in four years. Positioning the rig to get out of the Dynacraft parking lot and returning it to Pete HQ required some time in reverse. Each time I was able to get the trailer to go where I needed it to be but it was, at times, not pretty. There is a finesse that comes with using this technology to back up that's difficult to polish in 5 hours going forward and just 5 minutes in reverse. My guess is over the course of a couple days, a professional driver would master it. In the meantime, the regular glass mirrors are still there, so there's really no downside here. 

There is no arguing that Peterbilt's Digital Vision System-Mirrors can be an important part of a suite of safety technologies. The system simply provides more and better visibility and reduces blindspots, and it makes a strong case not only for on-highway fleets. Think about how many people are moving and darting around construction sites (DVS-M is also available for Model 567). The system makes people and other pieces of equipment more visible, giving them fewer places to unintentionally hide. 

Pete's DVS-M is a safety play likely geared toward carriers who already embrace features like automatic emergency braking and lane centering, among a host of others, but it's an important safety element because it's not reactionary. It's doesn't correct or mitigate mistakes. DVS-M gives the driver the opportunity to make more informed and safer decisions, possibly preventing cases where automatic emergency braking and lane centering would ever need to engage and preventing the mistake from ever happening. 

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]. 
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