Reverse Stall Parking: A Necessary Driving Skill

Backing UpA number of readers contacted me after I told a story about a man walking behind me when I was preparing to back out of a parking stall. These readers all advised me that I should back into parking stalls rather than driving forward into them. The benefits of doing this outweigh the convenience of entering the stall nose first in all cases but one.

Backing in Makes Sense

I don't care for backing up when I don't have to but if you sit and think about the suggestion, it starts to make a lot of sense! When you are backing into a parking stall there isn't any traffic in it already. You only have to pay attention to stationary objects behind and on either side. When you are backing out, not only do you have to pay attention to traffic coming from both sides behind you, you have to make sure the front of your vehicle doesn't rub those stationary objects on either side as well. This divides your attention and is more likely to result in a problem.

backing into a parking stall

Signal Your Intentions

Signal lights? In a parking lot? Defensive drivers signal, even when the law does not require them to do it. Is there a better way to tell other drivers what you intend to do? The blinking signal light will also attract the attention of pedestrians.

Yes, there will be inconsiderate drivers who follow you into the parking lot and won't want to give you the room to back into your chosen stall. However, you are stopped and so are they. Wait politely with your signal on and hopefully they will figure it out and go around you. Problem solved.

Do Your Backup Lights Work?

While we are discussing signals, backup lights do more than help you see where you are going at night. They tell everyone behind you of the change in the direction of your vehicle's travel.

Access to the Trunk

The only question I had was what do I do when I want to put items in the trunk of my car and there isn't enough room between me and whatever I have backed up to? It turns out that this is simple to solve too. Simply drive forward a couple of feet and there you go, lot's of room to load a trunk. If you are judicious, you will not be far enough out of the space to create difficulties for the traffic that may pass in front of your vehicle.

The One Exception to Backing In

If you can pull through to the parking space on the other side of a double row this is a good alternative to backing in to a parking space. Beware of other drivers who might also be entering your intended space from the other side.

pull through parking example

How to Back Into a Parking Space

This video from Rick at SmartDriveTest in Vernon explains two ways to back safely into a parking stall:

ICBC's Tuning Up for Drivers explains how to back up into a parking stall on your right step by step:

  1. Mirror check and turn on your right turn signal.
  2. Stop slightly past the stall. Make sure you’re in a position where other vehicles can’t move in behind you when you’re backing into the stall. Before stopping, you may want to angle your car to the left, this may make it easier to begin backing into the stall.
  3. Do a 360º vision check.
  4. Turn and look so that you get a clear view of the area you’re backing into.
  5. Begin to reverse slowly, keeping the wheels as straight as you can.
  6. When the rear bumper of your vehicle’s in line with the edge of the stall next to the one you would like to back into, begin turning your wheels to the right as you back toward your target stall.
  7. Continue backing up, gradually straightening the wheels, until your vehicle’s completely in the stall and out of traffic.

Why This is a Necessary Skill for Drivers

One last thought, and that is backing into a parking stall is a necessary skill for all drivers. New drivers will be tested on it and experienced drivers will have to demonstrate the skill if they are called in for a re-examination. Practice makes perfect!

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Madness. While the article does have some valid points in theory, the reality of things is that backing in to a parking stall requires a lot more skill than backing out. You actually have to park between the lines, not just get out. I'd much rather wait a second to give someone room than wait 2 minutes while they back up, stop, forward, stop, back, you get the picture. Maybe it's just me but backing out of a stall is not hard, not at all... if you have difficulty backing out ( usually a woman in a large SUV from my own experience ) then how much fun are you going to have trying to back in? The fact is a significant number of people are not good drivers, if you can't back out of a stall maybe you just shouldn't be driving at all?

In reply to by Nukchuu (not verified)

I disagree with some of your thoughts. I will always look for a 'drive through' space to park in first of all. Second choice is a good back-in space. If only folks would practice backing up before they think they are 'good' drivers!

In reply to by Nukchuu (not verified)

Anyone who has driver a larger-than-average vehicle - such as a super-cab pickup with a full-size box - knows that they are hopelessly cumbersome to park in the shopping mall. Indeed, the only way to get one squarely into a space on the first try is to back it in. How much easier, therefore, must it be to back in a smaller vehicle?

It is quite true that is a bit of an acquired skill, but anyone who is not forever honing his (or her) driving skill can readily be defined as a bad driver.

It is true also, as Nukchuu says, that a significant number of people are bad drivers. That is the strongest reason for backing in, as when one is backing out it becomes impossible to watch for fast-moving bad drivers approaching from both directions simultaneously.

Bravo!!! Reverse parking should be mandatory. A vehicle is far more maneuverable at low speed in reverse than in forward and reversing into a parking stall is made much easier since the trailing end of the vehicle is lined up with the parking space using the (in this case) rear steering wheels. Ever looked at a forklift? They are so maneuverable for this very reason. And nothing needs to be said about exiting a parking spot facing in the right direction. I just laugh at people trying to drive forward into parking lot stalls, leaning up over their steering wheel to see if they will make it, shifting forward, backward, then forward with the power steering pump screeching as they try to turn those front wheels just that much more to make it!!! Hahaha!

Reverse parking makes a heck of a lot of sense, not only are front steered vehicles much more agile in reverse (can somebody tell me which idiot is responsible for those front steered shopping carts on this side of the pond?) but it also is a lot easier to back into a defined space with boundaries to fix on, then to just back into open space, if you closely watch nose-in parkers backing out you can actually see them desperately searching for some sort of fix point & still not having a clue where they are & what they are doing there.

Two problems remain: going shopping indeed it's trunk access, given the lazy nature of many people (including myself in this case) they usually don't want to carry every single bag of their two week supply shopping trip from the front of the car back to the trunk, but much rather pull the shopping cart right up to the trunk & I don't want anyone to screetch his shopping cart along my Bimmer trying to reach the trunk.

Backing up to fences, walls etc the exhaust leaves very ugly marks.

I workrd for the Ministry Of Highways and after 1989 the private contractors and the standard policy was to make your first move ahead. Believe me you can avoid a lot of backing up accidents by doing so.

One of my vehicles is a full size crew cab with a 2.4m (8 foot) box.  Overall length is 6.6m (21.6 feet) there is no way one can position one of these vehicles in a normal parking stall by driving in forward.  You have to back in and if you know how to drive it is a faster movement than someone trying to drive in forward.

Every year we read of kids being killed by someone backing over them.  Manufactures are now installing rear cameras to try and prevent this but they are still not as good as backing in and moving forward out of the stall.

I agree that backing in should be made mandatory and that should also include people backing into their own driveways.  The way I have always read the MVA one is to avoid backing into traffic unless absolutely necessary to do so.  Backing out of ones driveway into traffic I do not believe is necessary as one could easily have backed into the driveway and drove out forward.

One final thought on this is it not a requirement of getting a drivers licence in B.C. to prove that one can parallel park?  If so, does this not require one to back into the parking area?

Very often, when my wife and I go to the grocery store, I choose to stay in the vehicle.  I find it exceedingly entertaining to watch the majority of drivers in the parking lot. (I really need to get a life!)  Unfortunately, my entertainment is based solely on others incompetence.  From what I have observed, and this is purely subjective, the problem that arises in most cases, is the fact that these drivers that have issues seem to have one common fault.  They  have no idea how big their vehicle is.  They have never taken the time to learn the "perspective points" on the corners or in their mirrors.  Almost always, while trying to manouever, they stop and re-adjust their approach, when in actuality they had a good two or three feet of space between them and any given object, and could easily have carried on in their intended direction, or they stop short of the stall markings and are still in the laneway, or they are so far to one side or the other that someone won't be able to get in or out of their door.  It baffles me how anyone could not know how much room they have around their vehicle.  But, conversely, I also see (even more to my amusement...sad, I know) the tell-tale marks of those that "park-by-feel".  It's no wonder why our rates are so high and I have to pay for all the damages caused by these *expletive deleted*.  OK,  I'm done.

If you set yourself up to drive out of a parking spot or driveway you only need to stick 1/3 of your vehicle into traffic before you have a clear view in both directions, if you have to back out you need to stick 2/3 of your vehicle into traffic risking being hit by approaching vehicles before you can see them coming.  When you are going to back into a stall or driveway you can stop in front of it and see that it is clear and empty making it safe to back into.  When you have to back out of the same situation you never know what is coming and it will be different every time.  It's a no brainer, learn to back up by practicing or ask someone to teach you the proper technique.

Plus which, when you're driving forwards then you benefit from your full peripheral vision.

Just an observation,,Ever been to a large truck stop? Next time by one,have a notice of the parking,,,a Vast majority of semi drivers,Including Super B,s(2 trailers and a tractor)  Back into thier parking stalls!!!!

Women are some of the BEST SEMI DRIVERS OUT THERE,,and have seen many with great backing Skills.

Men-Women can be equally good,,,or equally bad,,,Get out of the PAST.

And No I am not a women,,just a realistic Male Driver.

When I was taught to drive 40 years ago, my instructor gave me some very valuable advice: "Always back up under controlled conditions, and you control the conditions."

Yes, backing into a parking stall may be harder, but it is safer.

If drivers have not mastered this maneuver, they should not be issued a licence. If one is issued the examiner should be fired for cause.

What passes for a new driver is terrible.! I constantly see new drivers who do not have a clue what they are doing, and no idea where they are going! I could easily get into an accident a day if i did not care and it would be the other driver's fault.

I was a professional driver for 35 years with a Class 2 with air endorsement licence. My buddy was a transport inspector for 35 years and he cannot believe how a lot of people get a licence. The examiners are not allowed to fail them too often. Then there is the race card that comes into play if they are failed too often.

The system stinks, They do not even retest if an examiner is found to be selling licences! What a crock.

I almost always park effectively ‘pointing out’ in parking stalls. The few times I don’t are; 

1. There’s traffic following me which, potentially, may lead to conflict or confusion.

2. The stall backs to a building which may even have signage requesting ‘DO NOT BACK IN TO PARK’, or the like. 

In those cases, I’ll just pull straight in. Backing out in these situations is easier if I was lucky enough to have a passenger. If I don’t have a clear sight line, I’ll ask them to stand aside and behind the car to wave me out when it’s safe. 

I generally follow your procedure backing in to a stall except, rather than the right turn signal, I use the hazard flashers. Is that so wrong? Speaking of the flashers, if I could figure a way to activate the flashers automatically whenever I engage reverse, I would. Working on it!

One additional comment. When I’m headed to park in a larger lot such as found at a mall or big box store, I first try for ‘pull through’ parking which is two vacant stalls end to end. Then I just pull straight in to the further stall thus achieving a ‘pointing out’ posture with no backing up required. This scenario may mean parking a bit further away from my ultimate destination but how lazy have we become?

Would a few taps on the horn before and even during reversing be a good idea? They could alert a pedestrian or someone in a car parked next to your stall who is considering opening their door into your path. The "Collision Regulations" at sea include:

Rule 34

Manoeuvring and Warning Signals — International

(a) When vessels are in sight of one another, a power-driven vessel underway, when manoeuvring as authorized or required by these Rules, shall indicate that manoeuvre by the following signals on her whistle:

one short blast to mean “I am altering my course to starboard"

two short blasts to mean “I am altering my course to port”

three short blasts to mean “I am operating astern propulsion"

I seem to remember reading in the MVA that the horn it is only to be used in limited situations, but I can't find the relevant section. I also have a vague memory of aftermarket backup alarms but have not looked into whether they would be compatible with late model passenger vehicles.

It isn't a bad thing to do, but it is not required by the Motor Vehicle Act.

You are required to use the horn as a warning, if necessary, when traveling though canyons or to warn pedestrians.

In reply to by DriveSmartBC

I think technically one could be issued a ticket for using their horn excessively, I was often on sites where you honk once before moving forward, twice when backing up. As a pedestrian, you felt safer walking through congested areas knowing that no one would move without an audible warning (you could be kicked off site if you were caught moving without honking). As a driver is was good to know that the pedestrians around you were aware of your intentions and that way they can react appropriately, instead of wander3ing inter your blind spot like so many do.

One thing I do just before backing out of a parking stall, I  give the car’s horn a couple of honks.  Did this many times when I had my camper on my truck.

This alerts anyone walking down the side or row of vehicles, especially  in grocery store parking lots with people running back and for with shopping carts.

And this can alert other drivers your intention as well.  I was surprised this wasn’t mentioned in your drivesmartbc message today.  

It isn't a bad thing to do, but it is not required by the Motor Vehicle Act.

You are required to use the horn as a warning, if necessary, when traveling though canyons or to warn pedestrians.

I think there's still an item in the MVA about sounding your horn when passing, and how drivers ahead should respond (i.e. let 'em pass).

But that's as off topic as traveling through canyons (but remember that you're not allowed to coast with the clutch down when doing this).

Because it's all a matter of communication. Which is always helpful as an indication of intent, rather than your current action. And keep in mind that communication is provided by the driver from their vehicle positioning, their use of signals, and their use of the 360 warning, one or two taps on the horn.

On a Commercial driving test, using the horn prior to backing - and about every vehicle length you continue to reverse - is expected, or it will be marked against you. You're also expected to check your path of travel before reversing (which may require jumping out and having a look), if any significant time has passed since you saw the area you're going to move your vehicle into.

Nothing but logic there, actually.

And while the subject of Commercial testing may seem irrelevant to this topic, keep in mind that every year in north america, two or three hundred children will be fatally injured when a parent reverses over them in their own driveway. Horrifying, and completely preventable - if you take a look behind your vehicle, first.

Right you are! I missed that one...

Duty when overtaking

157 (2)Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, a driver of an overtaken vehicle,

(a) on hearing an audible signal given by the driver of the overtaking vehicle, must cause the vehicle to give way to the right in favour of the overtaking vehicle, and

Hi, in Rick's video on reverse parking, the method used around 2:23 (reversing into the bay on the left) where we are crossing the other lane to reverse, is that an ok method to use?  I have read somewhere that with that method we are on the wrong the side of the road and therefore it is not legal. Is that true or not? Thanks for your help 

When I watched the video, it looks like the car shown before the whiteboard sketch is on the right side of the parking lot aisle, so I never gave it much thought. You are correct in my view as the Motor Vehicle Act requires staying to the right, although I often watch my neighbours drive into the oncoming lane and then back in.

I pull up and then back into the spot on my right when I'm in a parking lot and when I back into my own driveway I pull past, staying in my travel lane, stop, scan and then back in to my left.

This baffles traffic behind me and I occasionally find someone stopped so close behind me that I am unable to back up.

The smart thing to do, both for safety and for practicality, is to set your vehicle up as best you can for the reversing maneuver; and frankly, making a right-angled turn into the space is the most challenging, even though many driving schools seem to teach this. What you need to do (as any experienced truck driver knows) is to approach the space closely whilst going forward, then swing away from it as far as practicable whilst also counter-steering at the end of the move. This will give you the easiest, safest reversing move into the space, whether you're parking on the left side or right side.

Drivers who insist on putting their vehicles nose-in to parking spaces still need the width of the aisle to do this (especially if they have larger vehicles) as they will need to swing wide in order to turn into the space and end up at 90 degrees. So it makes no difference to everyone else wishing to zip through the parking lot, really. Besides, it's dumb to zip through parking lots.

The key question here, I think, is whether the aisle in a parking lot can be considered a 'road' or 'highway' or whatever. And I don't think that's so, even though it is publicly accessible. (I'll expound on that in a separate thread on this site.)

The aisle in a parking lot is a highway.

"highway" includes

(c) every private place or passageway to which the public, for the purpose of the parking or servicing of vehicles, has access or is invited,