Phrase often seen in rear-view mirrors. The mirror's surface is convex, meaning that they give a wider field of view than a flat reflecting surface would give. This optical effect allows a driver to see more of what's behind the vehicle than would otherwise be seen, with the caveat that the things seen appear smaller than they would normally, and so are closer than they appear.

When I was quite a bit younger, my Uncle gave me a copy of Bat Out of Hell II. Maybe he thought I'd like it. Anyway - one of the songs was called Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are. As cars in the UK don't bother to remind drivers of the fact that Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear, this lyric was my first introduction to the whole mirror - object - distance relationship. I didn't realise that the 'correct' way around was that objects in the mirror are closer than they appear, and so I thought he was telling the truth in his song. I guess I didn't bother working it out for myself.

Obviously, looking back on it now, the song was using a metaphor. The lyrics went something like...

And if life is a highway
Then your soul is just a car
And objects in the rear view mirror
May appear closer than they are.

These probably are not the exact lyrics (my memory is stretching back a few years here), but something fairly similar.

ANYWAY, my point is this. Meatloaf's use of this creative device was totally lost on me. For years. I could have killed myself overtaking someone - while humming the tune (for added irony) - thinking, "Oh, it looks quite close but he's further away than he looks of course". I can see the headlines.

MEATLOAF'S CAUSUAL DISREGARD FOR THE LAWS OF THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE KILLS TEENAGE KID

Or maybe they'd have gone with something a bit snappier.

It wasn't until I saw Jurassic Park on TV 2 days ago (remember this is many many years after the release of the Meatloaf album, learning to drive, etc) that I read the truth. See Pseudo_Intellectual's writeup of Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear for a description of one of the most hilarious scenes in the film.

And the conclusion of this tale? I'll be a bit more careful when changing lanes in future.

This reminds me of a motorcycle I saw once. It was a Triumph Daytona and the owner had obviously got a little sandblaster as a Christmas present because the following was etched along the bottom of the rear-view mirrors:

Objects in the mirror are rapidly disappearing

Objects in Mirror are larger than they appear

  We have all seen this message printed on the passenger side rear view mirror of our vehicles. At one point or another everyone has wondered why the objects are closer than they appear?, others know why it is, while some just don't care, but above all we have learned to live with it as a part of our daily lives. "Why don't they just put: This mirror is broken, do not use" (Gallagher). The reason this mirror contains this message is that it's a convex mirror, not a flat mirror like the driver side rear view mirror.

So how does a convex mirror function then?

  When the rays from a object hit a convex mirror they reflect off the surface of the mirror. If these reflected rays were to be extended behind the mirror, they would combine at a single point to form a image. This image is formed where the rays emanating from the object appear to intersect behind the mirror. Notice, the image you see is formed behind the mirror not in front of it. Convex mirrors form images that are smaller than the object itself.
  Now, we can say that the image seen in the passenger side rear view mirror is: smaller than it normally would be, is behind the mirror, and that the farther away a object is the smaller it appears to be. Taking all this into account we can conclude that objects in the passenger side rear view mirrors are closer than they appear to be.
  The image formed by the mirror is smaller than it would be in a flat mirror making the statement about the mirror true, but the mirror doesn't stop there. It also puts the image behind the mirror which according to the laws of depth perception makes the image even smaller. This is why it is a good idea to look back to see how close that car is, even after you look in your mirror.

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