Years ago, I worked with a woman who would back into a parking spot every morning when she arrived to work.
It would often take her at least half a dozen tries before getting it right. Watching this process was both hilarious and tragic. You'd think that after years of backing her car into a parking spot, she would have mastered the skill, but no.
Not even close.
So I asked her one day why she backs her car into parking spots, and she said, "At the end of the day, I just want to get the hell out of here as quickly as possible."
Perhaps she should've just found a better job or retired sooner.
I have always thought that backing a car into a parking spot was ridiculous. Not only does it take longer than simply pulling forward into a spot, but logically, I never thought it made any sense.
First, we must acknowledge that regardless of how skillful you might be at backing up a car, driving forward is always easier than driving in reverse. You can see more when driving forward because your seat is positioned to allow you greater vision of the road. You also spend almost all of your time in a car driving forward, so you're far more accustomed to operating the car in this direction.
A driver is always more adept at operating a vehicle that is moving forward.
Therefore, when parking a car between two other cars, it only makes sense to pull forward. Placing your car between two other cars in a space just a few feet wider than the car (while also trying to park equidistant from the adjacent cars) means that you are driving your car into one of the narrowest spaces that you will ever drive.
The width of the average American sedan is 6 feet. Compact cars are slightly less wide and SUVs can be considerably wider.
In America, the width of a parking spot is 7.5 to 8.5 feet depending upon the municipality.
The width of a lane of highway, by contrast, is 12 feet, and the width of secondary roads are usually 10.5 feet, which are downright roomy compared with a parking spot.
It only makes sense that you should be driving with every advantage possible when pulling into a space as narrow as a parking spot, and this means driving forward.
Conversely, when exiting a parking spot, you have an entire lane to pull into. You have a vast, empty space in which to maneuver, and it doesn't matter how sharp or shallow you turn your vehicle as you exit the parking spot. There is no predetermined landing space.
Therefore, you should enter parking spots while driving forward and exit in reverse.
I have heard from people who back into parking spots that they do so because of fear of backing into a lane and hitting a child. They argue that since it is far more likely for a little one might be wandering in the lane of a parking lot rather than an actual parking spot, it is far safer to be able to drive forward out of a parking spot.
I have always thought that this argument is nonsense. While it may be true that it's more likely for a person to be walking in the lane of a parking lot than an actual spot, cautious driving should eliminate the possibility of hitting someone, and these types of accidents are rare.
In 2010, for example, there were approximately 2,000 reported accidents involving a car driving in reverse striking a pedestrian in a parking lot, leading to 99 fatalities.
By contrast, there were approximately 3,000 reported accidents involving a car driving forward forward and striking a pedestrian in a parking lot, leading to 106 fatalities.
More people are hit and killed by cars moving forward in a parking lot than moving in reverse. And while these fatalities are tragedies, more people are injured and killed by lawnmowers each year than by automobiles in parking lots.
Hitting a pedestrian is an exceptionally rare occurrence, and with the advent of back-up cameras, automobile safety experts expect these numbers to plummet in the coming years.
Routinely backing your car into a parking spot for safety reasons makes no sense.
This is what I have always thought. In an effort to keep an open mind, I decided to spend a week backing into parking spots wherever I went.
Here is what I discovered:
1. I am much more adept at backing into parking spots than my former colleague. Only three times over the course of the week did I need to pull out of the parking spot to readjust my car. Backing into a parking spot requires considerably more attention on my part than simply driving forward, and it is a much slower process, but it can be done effectively without much effort.
2. Drivers who park close to the edge of their parking spot create enormous problems for people backing into parking spots, particularly if you want your car to be equidistant from the adjacent cars. You quickly learn to hate these people.
3. It's actually more challenging to back your car into a spot without vehicles on either side. When there are vehicles to your left and right, you are able to use them as guides when backing into your spot. Without these vehicles, you only have the lines on the pavement to guide you, and these are considerably harder to see when driving in reverse. Two of the three times that I had to readjust my car occurred when backing into a spot with empty spots on either side.
4. I never felt safer about driving forward when leaving the parking spot. Whether I am driving forward or reverse when exiting a parking spot, I am driving slowly and cautiously at all times. I am checking to ensure that there are no vehicles or pedestrians in the lane. Frankly, I just don't think it's very difficult to drive in forward or reverse from a parking spot, and even if there was a toddler in the parking lot, wandering around without supervision (something I have never seen in my life), I think I would see that child regardless of the direction that I am driving.
Honestly, if I continued to back into parking spots for the rest of my life, I think there is a much greater chance of me hitting an adjacent car while parking than ever hitting a person, and statistics back up this claim.
5. I don't see why it's any less likely for a child to be wandering into or through the parking spot that I am backing into than than the lane. If a toddler has escaped the attention of a parent, who is to say that this child would remain in the lane. In fact, if there is a small child wandering between the parked cars, it would be much more difficult to see that child, since he or she could be obscured by the vehicles on either side of me. If the child is wandering in the lane, at least there is nothing for him or her to hide behind. There are longer and clearer sight lines. There is no danger of that child suddenly popping out from behind another car.
6. The biggest drawback to backing into a parking spot, and the reason I will not be backing into parking spots in the future, is time. Not only do I sacrifice my own time by backing into a spot (which always takes longer), but I discovered that if there is a vehicle following you in a parking lot, backing into a parking spot delays that vehicle considerably from moving forward and finding their own parking spot. Rather than pulling forward into a spot, I must instead drive past the desired parking spot, stop the car, turn my body so it's in position to drive in reverse, shift into reverse, and then begin the slow process of backing into the spot.
If I'm backing out of a parking spot, I can do all these things without delaying anyone. I can take my time because I am safely tucked away into my own spot. When I'm in the middle of the lane with other vehicles waiting to find a spot, this process becomes a serious delay for others.
In two instances, the driver behind me pulled close enough to me that part of their vehicle was blocking the spot that I planned on backing into, and in both cases, I didn't blame them. They had no idea that I was preparing to engage in this ridiculous maneuver and simply continued moving forward until I could no longer access the desired spot. In both cases, I instead drove forward to a new spot, feeling foolish while doing so.
If everyone backed into their parking spots, I am convinced that parking lots would become nightmares to drive through. Vehicles would constantly be delayed as drivers executed the required steps to back into a parking spot.
After a week of backing into parking spot, I am happy to say that the week is over. Other than the times when I back into a parking spot at a Patriots game or a concert, knowing that pulling into the lane sometimes requires aggressive driving and speed, I will be pulling forward into my parking spots like all sane people should.
Backing into a parking spot is time consuming, and it is not safer.
In fact, if you want to be safer in a parking lot, experts advise that you park farther away from the entrance, where pedestrian and vehicular traffic is less congested. This is the single best way to avoid an accident in a parking lot.
But I don't see the drivers who are backing into parking spots for safety reasons doing this anytime soon. While they are perfectly willing to waste their time and ours while backing into a parking spot, I suspect that they are far less willing to park an extra 100 steps from the entrance to the grocery store for the sake of safety.
In the end, my former colleague was right. The only good reason to back into a parking spot is to get the hell out of the parking spot a little faster. While you will ultimately lose more time backing into the spot than you will save driving forward when you leave, it guess it makes sense if you're a bank robber in need of a quick getaway, a Patriots fan hoping to exit the parking lot in less than an hour, or a woman who really, really hates her job.
Otherwise, stop backing into parking spots. It makes no sense.