Parking Lot Safety: What New Drivers Need to Know

Driving in a parking lot doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. After all, cars go slowly, the lanes are clearly marked, and there aren’t a lot of driving rules or traffic controls to worry about. But in fact, parking lot crashes account for 14% of all insurance claims, and some research suggests that as many as one in five crashes occurs in a parking lot!   So unless you’re someone who spends more than 20% of your driving time in lots, you’re statistically more likely to get into a collision there than pretty much anywhere else on the road.

Ironically, it may be the very fact that drivers think parking lots are safe places that makes them so dangerous in the first place! For instance, in parking lots, drivers are more likely to ignore lane markings and traffic signs because they think they don’t have the same force of law (See how this applies in Texas). It’s important to remember, however, that the main reason to obey traffic signs isn’t that you can get a ticket if you don’t–it’s because those signs were put there to help drivers proceed safely, and when you ignore them, you’re more likely to cause a crash.

Another factor to keep in mind is the fact that parking lots are some of the only places where drivers and pedestrians share the same area of the roadway. A pedestrian who emerges suddenly from between a pair of cars can cause an unprepared driver to react in a panic and crash–an outcome that can be particularly dangerous for the pedestrian. Indeed, studies suggest that over 20% of vehicle-pedestrian collisions occur in parking lots and that approximately 20% of these collisions result in an incapacitating injury. Occasionally,  pedestrians are even killed in parking lot crashes, with children and people at work being the most at risk.

It’s true that, because of drivers’ low speeds, parking lot crashes are rarely so serious. Nevertheless, these statistics demonstrate that this is a problem you have to take seriously. Even when no one is hurt, parking lot crashes can be inconvenient and costly, especially if your insurance rates go up as a result. That’s why some states are starting to require that drivers ed classes include greater coverage of parking lot safety, and why we’ve put together this brief guide to help you get in and out of parking lots as safely as possible.

How to Drive Safely in Parking Lots

Although parking in a lot is typically less complicated than it is on the street because the spaces are designed to be easy to enter and exit, parking lots present their own unique risks to drivers. For instance, because the driving lanes are narrow and the driving area is shared by pedestrians, you must go slow, be alert, and always signal your intentions when you’re parking in a lot.

In parking lots, drivers tend to focus their attention on looking for a parking spot, rather than on driving safely. A driver who’s craning his head looking for an open space may fail to notice a pedestrian in front of him or a vehicle approaching from the other side. Moreover, someone parked between two cars may have a hard time seeing if another vehicle is approaching when they back up, which can be especially dangerous if that other driver cares more about finding a spot than driving safely.

By paying attention, driving defensively, and following the law, you’re much less likely to get into a crash. In order to protect yourself and others in a parking lot, you should:

  • Enter your space by backing up whenever possible so that you’ll have an easier time when you leave the space.
  • Drive in the center of your lane and park in the center of your space to make it easier for other people to see you and navigate the lot.
  • Only park in a space if you’re sure you have enough room. Then pull your vehicle into the space as far as possible so that it will be easier for drivers and pedestrians to move through the lot.
  • Be careful opening your door as you exit your car to avoid denting the side of the car next to you.
  • Be aware of the location of the lot’s entrances and exits and any no parking zones in the lot. Try to avoid parking near the entrance of the lot, as these areas are often more congested and you’ll have more drivers and pedestrians to deal with as you leave the space.
  • Watch out for signs indicating special rules that govern driving or parking in the lot. Stop signs are often posted in parking lots at the end of every lane. At uncontrolled intersections in the lot, follow the standard right-of-way rules. Stop and proceed only when it is safe.
  • Make sure you’re not going the wrong way by watching for arrows on the pavement indicating the designated direction for each lane. Many parking lot lanes are narrow and restricted to a single direction of traffic.
  • Stay out of spaces where the wheelchair logo is displayed on a sign or pavement marking, as well the striped areas next to them. Only drivers with a disabled parking placard or license plate may park in a designated handicapped space.
  • Check the front of the space before you park to see if any other restrictions are indicated. Some parking spots may be designated as “Narrow,” “Reserved,” etc.

Parking Lot Safety Is About More Than Driving Well

Perhaps there’s no area of the road where common courtesy is more important than in parking lots. When drivers are parking, tempers can run high, especially as the lot fills up and there are more people to interact with and fewer places to park. As you drive through the lot, remember that parking can be stressful for everyone. Use your turn signals in a timely manner and yield to drivers backing out of a space who may not be able to see the roadway.

If you can’t find a spot immediately, be patient. Do not stalk people walking back to their cars. Unless they’re already preparing to back up, you shouldn’t wait for a driver to leave in order to seize their space: you could block traffic and frustrate other drivers. And no matter how annoyed you get, don’t take out your frustrations on another driver by confronting or honking at them.

Also remember that parking lots are frequently the sites of theft: in fact, about 1 in 9 property crimes occur in a parking lot. Choose a spot that’s in a well-lit area and not isolated. Finally, no matter where you park, remember to take your keys from the ignition, close your windows and lock your doors, and hide any valuable items under a seat or in the trunk before you leave your car.

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