Go First, Think Second

Backing UpI've started to take my own advice and back into parking stalls more often. There have been some unique experiences, mostly pedestrians that blithely march past the back of my vehicle ignoring the signal and backup lights, but there are drivers who want to go first and think second. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to include myself in that category this time around.

My most recent experience involved a parking lot whose entry is curved to the right and on a grade.

I pulled up far enough to line up on a parking stall on the driver's side while signalling my intent to move left. I put the car in reverse and watched as another driver pulled up behind me and stopped. He was so close that I did not think that I could safely reverse without running into his vehicle.

Why couldn't he have stopped just a bit further back I thought to myself. If he had been thinking ahead I could just back out of his way and be done with it.

I waited for the driver to go around me and he waited for me to get out of his way.

After a few moments of consideration on both our parts he started to honk his horn, but I continued to wait.

Finally, he had enough and passed by me over the single solid yellow line that separated the lanes in the parking lot.

Hmmm....single solid yellow line. You must always stay to the right of these lines unless you are passing an overtaken vehicle or avoiding an obstruction. That rule does have an exception for those who are entering or leaving the highway.

The trouble here being that I wasn't leaving the highway. The entire parking lot is the highway.

If I wanted to use that parking spot I had selected on my left I needed to have my vehicle pointed in the opposite direction and be driving on the other side of that yellow line.

Sorry, I obviously wasn't thinking! From now on I will use the next entrance that will allow me to be properly positioned before I park.

No doubt about it, it's far safer as a matter of habit to reverse into parking spaces and drive away forwards than the other way around; besides, a vehicle is more maneuverable when backing up as you're steering with the trailing wheels just like a fork lift truck.

And, as a general principle, reversing to your left is better than to your right, particularly in larger vehicles where the mirrors are used more.

But far too many drivers simply stop dead when they've seen a space they want to back into, change into reverse gear, and then attempt to execute the maneuver from wherever they're at when they stop; this is rarely successful.

Everything in the driver's landscape - moving and stationary - should be considered, particularly potential conflicts with other vehicles around you, and this will certainly affect one's judgment as to the best approach.

Without other vehicles around, I see no reason (or law) that would make it 'wrong' to choose a space on the left, the yellow line be damned.

The vital things to remember are (a) that while still going forwards, you need to be physically positioning your vehicle so as to aim the rear wheels toward the open space - this is best accomplished by heading toward the space, in order to pull your back axle closer to it then (b) pulling away from the space and counter-steerinig before selecting reverse. Worth keeping in mind that the closer you are to it the harder it is to maneuver into it. That's what I mean by setup. Execution should then be one smooth easy maneuver with minimum steering correction needed until you've got yourself planted between the lines and only need to tidy up the front end as you finish backing.

Particularly in this age when parking lot 'designers' have downsized the width of most parking spaces to fit economy cars, you'll notice that those who drive pickups and large vans are far more likely to reverse into spaces, and do a proficient job of it. But the soccer moms in their mini-vans and SUV's far more often do a crappy job of parking nose-in with the vehicle left at a weird angle.

Same thing here.  One time backing up in a Wal-mart parking lot a mother shouted stop and held up her hand.  I stopped.  I waited for two or three seconds.  What is she doing? Then I saw her two pre-school age.   They pass bye, and I was frustrated she made me stop: immediate reaction.   But I didn't endanger her kids.  I understand I can yield the right of way, but not take it.  And like you a motorist has stoped behind me.  We're both blocked.   I have a parking stall to re-enter.  I have an option to remain stopped or let him pass.  Maybe he doesn't.  The driver may have a vehicle stopped to close behind him.  Maybe he/she cannot back-up.

Wallace driving says the same thing about backing in.  The Canadian Army made us do same with their vehicles.  Not a fan.  Entering a parking mall vehicle space I look for shoppers returning to their cars.  Moving into the stall at walking pace I'm mindful of doors open or opening of vehicles either side.  I want to see if there are passengers in either vehicle.  Some windows are tinted.  A pickup with an enclosed canopy/cab hides passengers.  Same with a van.  More I pay attention to the passenger doors where small children may leap out.  Shoppers and children are vulnerable.  As for me, I 'd rather see those kind of things through the windshield than a small mirror. 

Backing out of a stall is social convention.  I know I cannot see oncoming vehicles or shoppers walking back to their vehicles.   They know I cannot see them.   Starting the engine my foot is on the brake pedal.  Drivers and shoppers see the brake lights.  Place transmission in reverse: both could see the back-up lights.  Quick beep on the horn. (Army driving standard operating passenger.)  I reverse at creeping pace and watch mirrors for anything at all.  Feeling confident.  I gave two visual and one hearing clue.  Pretty much most people agree that I'm backing up and realize I cannot see them. So in my brain they are less vulnerable.  This is why I prefer to drive in then back out.

I'd like to see some ICBC survey about collisions in parkades or parking lots.  Is backing into a parking space safer?  Done any surveys of your readers?  Which do they do?  Which do thet think is safer?  What would ICBC say?

All you have to do is look around in a parking lot. 90% + vehicles are parked nose in, few are backed in.

When I have time I will see what I can find for research data, but in the meantime I certainly would not discourage you from doing the same and posting the result here if you have the time.


I'd like to see some ICBC survey about collisions in parkades or parking lots.  Is backing into a parking space safer?  Done any surveys of your readers?  Which do they do?  Which do they think is safer?  What would ICBC say?

I don't think you need a survey.

ICBC is an unusual animal, being both an insurance company with a vested interest in reducing collisions of all sorts (and reversing collisions in parking lots are incredibly common and costly, usually due to property damage rather than injury resulting), while also being a provincial licensing authority. I once asked an ICBC Claims Adjustor what would most likely result in a 50/50 blame allocation in a 2 vehicle crash, and the example of two cars backing into each other in a parking lot was what immediately came to her mind.

ICBC - the licensing authority - overhauled all of the Road Test criteria piece by piece for different license classes (while also creating the new Class 7 license back in 1998). Up to that time it was 'normal' for an Applicant (particularly if coached by a Driving School or wise parent) to reverse into the parking space from which they would commence their test; not because this was their habit, so much as to make it easier to leave later with their Driver Examiner. But at the end of the test, it was common for that same Applicant to park nose-in to the space.

This meant that the only reversing skills being demonstrated during the actual test would be (1) Reversing in a straight line for a few car lengths, and (2) Parallel Parking, often as not behind a single vehicle in the middle of the block on a quiet street.

But once the new criteria were in place, both Class 5 and Class 7 tests required the Applicant to complete their test by reversing into a 90 degree stall safely and accurately, while the Class 5 test also added executing a 3-point turn properly during the test (no parallel parking required, though).

No doubt about it, ICBC favour reversing into parking spaces, both for employees driving ICBC vehicles, and for license applicants demonstrating sufficient skills to pass their tests.