Follow these five simple safety rules when you’re parking (or backing up).
Parking lots can be hazardous for motorists, says Ron Salamanca, a Southern California driving school instructor for 12 years. He teaches people how to handle parking lot dangers, including view-obstructing walls and hedges, distracted pedestrians, and speeding drivers.
“Many parking lot accidents occur because drivers get too relaxed when doing errands they’ve done a million times before,” Salamanca says.
But you can avoid the most common types of crashes if you follow a few simple rules. Here are Salamanca’s top five tips for avoiding accidents and safely navigating parking lots.
1. Check your surroundings before you get in your car.
Survey the area as you return to your parked vehicle. “Look for anyone in the driver’s seat of a nearby car, or anyone who’s getting ready to get into a nearby car,” Salamanca says. “Then, when you back out, you’ll know where everyone is, and you’ll be aware of other drivers who might also be getting ready to pull out.”
2. Look every which way when you’re backing out of or pulling into a parking space.
Many drivers rely solely on their rearview mirrors or backup camera when they’re reversing, Salamanca says. That’s risky.
In addition to using the mirrors and camera, “look over your right shoulder first, through the back passenger window, because that’s the closest path of travel for another car,” he says.
Then, repeat the process over your left shoulder, and finally, look through the back window for brake lights or reverse lights on cars behind you. If pedestrians or vehicles are not close enough to pose a hazard, you can start backing out.
As you’re pulling into a spot, check to make sure that drivers or passengers of cars in adjacent spots are not opening their doors to exit their vehicles.
3. Keep your foot off the gas pedal as you back up.
Cars in the aisle have the right-of-way, so it’s up to the driver pulling out of a parking space to stop if there’s potential for a collision. What’s more, it’s usually easier for the car that’s backing out to make an emergency stop, because vehicles in the aisle generally are going faster. That’s why it’s always smart to inch out as slowly as possible, with your foot over the brake.
4. Watch for distracted pedestrians.
Many people are not as aware as they should be. They’re carrying groceries, trying to wrangle kids while pushing a full shopping cart, or texting while they’re walking. So don’t expect them to see you. Instead, keep your eyes peeled, and remember that people sometimes weave through parked vehicles, making them hard to see.
“Look for shadows passing under or near cars,” Salamanca says. It’s sometimes the only indication that a person is there.
5. Slow down.
Always drive slowly in parking lots, and keep your eyes peeled for other cars backing out of their spaces.