Bad Parking Skills an American Epidemic
Melissa Bean Sterzick
The American Automobile Association recently shared a drastic statistic: 75% of Americans park dangerously. I could have saved the AAA a lot of money in research costs and come up with a rather similar number.
Everywhere I go, I see people parking recklessly. The top offenders come in three categories: (1) people who can’t park straight (or at an angle) within the lines of a parking spot; (2) people who drive too fast in parking lots and structures; and (3) people who don’t look behind them when they reverse out of a parking spot.
These are basic aspects of parking that are all addressed in driving courses and tests, but people do what they do anyway. I find myself driving and walking through parking lots in a state of high alert, knowing that the people who are driving 30 miles an hour to park crookedly and those going into reverse without a glance in the rearview mirror are all around, and poised, at any moment, to run over me and my children or bounce off my car’s bumper.
But the AAA wasn’t talking about the same parking mistakes I notice occurring most commonly. Turns out, no matter how smug I am about my good parking skills and superior parking philosophy, I park badly, too. The AAA’s research, conducted with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, showed that most Americans go head-on into parking spots, when the correct approach is to back in.
The association reports that the back-in technique is safer for pedestrians and other cars. (It recommends that drivers reverse into parking spaces, except where prohibited. When faced with angled parking, drivers should follow the flow of traffic and pull forward into the parking space.)
From my point of view, I think it’s probably closer to 95%. When I’m out and around town, I rarely, if ever, see anybody backing into a spot or parked head out.
I have a neighbor who does it consistently, and I’m always impressed. I watch him and think I really should make that a habit. It would save time on the mornings when we’re rushing to beat the school tardy bell, and it would ease my fears of accidentally on purpose backing over another neighbor who might or might not be walking his dog over to poop on my lawn.
But I don’t do it, because when I get home from whatever expedition I’ve just completed, I want to park and get out of my car and that’s it. I know how to do it and don’t struggle with the concept of parking while driving backwards. It’s just that I’m too frazzled, or lazy, or shortsighted, or whatever you want to call it.
As I have established clearly that I have the ability, but not the inclination, I can go back to talking about the billion people in our country who don’t back-in park, because they just can’t. They can’t because their depth perception is not good, their driving-in-reverse skills are nonexistent, and/or their necks don’t work.
It could be any of those reasons that prevent them from parking safely. It also could be any of those reasons that make me question whether backing-in really is the safer way to park. Sure, it’s safer on the way out of the parking spot, but can you imagine the damage done when people with limited abilities attempt the oh-so-tricky back-in maneuver?
I’m not the first to recognize Americans’ difficulties with the reverse-parking technique. Automakers are installing more and more backup cameras, self-parking mechanisms, and rear cross-traffic-alert systems in their cars to address the inadequacy.
But the association has some research that undermines even those high-tech solutions. Its study, which tested rear cross-traffic-alert systems specifically, revealed the following (as provided in an AAA press release):
1. A passing motorcycle was not detected by the systems in 48% of tests.
2. The systems failed to detect a bicycle passing behind the vehicle 40% of the time.
3. The systems failed to detect a passing vehicle 30% of the time.
4. While not all systems are designed to detect pedestrians, the technology failed to detect them 60% of the time.
Further, John Nielsen, AAA’s Managing Director of Automotive Engineering and Repair, said, “[the AAA’s] testing of these systems reveal significant shortcomings when used in real-world conditions, and Americans should rely more on driving skills than technology.”
Even though other AAA research showed that rear-view camera systems increase visibility by 46%, the association still recommends that drivers use their own eyeballs to ensure their safety and the safety of the pedestrians and vehicles around them.
In the words of Megan McKernan, Manager of the ACSC’s Automotive Research Center: “It’s critical that drivers reverse slowly and use this technology as an aid to, not a substitute for, safe driving.”
In a contest of skills versus technology, it’s another win for skills.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is Parking Today’s proofreader,
occasional writer and amateur parker.
She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.