Driving in parking lots may seem non-threatening with low speed limits and neatly organized rows and spaces, but according to the National Safety Council, tens of thousands of crashes occur in lots and garage structures annually. And, further analysis of data indicates that 9 percent of pedestrian deaths in parking lots result from backing incidents. (National Safety Council, 2016)
While new vehicle advancements such as rear cross-traffic warning systems and rear-view cameras may lessen these risks by alerting drivers of potential hazards, drivers can’t solely rely on technology to prevent collisions. Drivers must always take responsibility to remain attentive and employ safe driving skills while driving through lots and parking and backing their vehicles in these environments.
Stay Alert and Look Farther Ahead
Parking lots present many unique challenges for drivers. They must be cognizant of pedestrians that can dart out from anywhere, other drivers traveling in multiple directions and even runaway shopping carts. To avoid or manage potential hazards that might arise, drivers must widen their field of vision by looking farther out into the parking lot and continuously scanning their surroundings. Additionally, properly setting up the vehicle’s side and rear-view mirrors will provide a greater degree of visibility on all sides of the vehicle.
Distance Yourself – Find a Safe Spot
When looking for a parking spot, first try to find an opening away from the congestion. This may not always be possible depending on the size and location of the lot. But, when possible, drivers should seek out open areas and wider spaces to avoid potential damage by other vehicles or objects such as shopping carts. Additionally, an open area improves a driver’s line of vision tremendously when pulling out or backing up.
As much as possible, avoid having to back out of a space. Look for a spot that enables you to pull straight in and through to the adjoining parking space. Pulling out forward is much safer than backing out because you can see what is in front and what is approaching from either side of the vehicle.
Always Use Signals
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) reported that two million accidents occur every year due to drivers who fail to signal. (The Society of Automotive Engineers, 2012) Signaling intentions is important in parking lots because it alerts other drivers of your next move, eliminates confusion and allows others time to react accordingly. This communication is essential in an environment where vehicles can be approaching from just about any direction.
Properly Position the Vehicle
Another factor of safe parking is the position of the vehicle in the space. It should be straight and centered when parked to prevent increased chances of damage.
If you find your vehicle is not centered after pulling in, use the following procedures to adjust it:
Straighten the steering wheel and then back straight out of the space. Always back out slowly and watch for pedestrians and other vehicles.
Once in the lane, look forward and re-adjust the vehicle so it is centered.
Need to Back Out?
The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) reported that more than 6,000 people are injured each year as a result of vehicles backing up. (Automotive Fleet,2019). As mentioned, it’s recommended to find pull-through spots whenever possible, but there may be times where backing out cannot be avoided.
When backing out of a parking spot, more than half of the vehicle is exposed to traffic before a driver has a clear view of his/her surroundings. To avoid a potential crash, keep the following tips top of mind:
Put your flashers on so other drivers are alerted.
Open the driver and passenger windows so you can also rely on your sense of hearing to identify possible traffic.
Always back up slowly.
Never look over your shoulder. This habit blocks 50 percent of your visibility. If the vehicle’s mirrors are properly adjusted, you’ll be able to see around blind spots for 180- degrees behind the vehicle.
Minimize how much you turn the steering wheel while backing. The front end of the car swings more than expected.
Back up straight, and then turn the wheel while looking and moving forward, until you have cleared the surrounding vehicles.
The unique hazards that parking lots create for drivers can be avoided if the appropriate safety measures are taken. By maintaining awareness, avoiding congested spots, and using safe parking techniques, drivers can safely navigate parking lots, avoid collisions and prevent damage to their vehicles.