Safety experts advise drivers to take steps to avoid having to back out of a parking space.  -  Photo: Canva

Safety experts advise drivers to take steps to avoid having to back out of a parking space.

Photo: Canva

This holiday season, as shopping centers fill with millions of vehicles, the American Automobile Association (AAA) is warning drivers to avoid a common parking lot mistake: pull-forward parking that later requires backing up to exit the space.

According to a new survey, 76% of U.S. drivers most frequently park their vehicle by pulling forward into a parking spot, rather than backing in. But this is a riskier practice that leaves pedestrians and approaching vehicles more vulnerable when the driver later reverses from the spot to move into the traffic lane, AAA said.

Many fleet safety experts advise drivers to rely on pull-through parking. That’s when a driver locates two empty spaces, and drives through one space before parking in the other. As a result, the vehicle both enters and exits the parking space without ever backing up. But this time of year, spaces are often scarce and pull-through parking isn’t always available.

That’s when backing into a parking space is the best option—even if the vehicle is equipped with new car technology such as rear cross-traffic alert systems, AAA said.

“Recognizing that American parking habits differ from much of the world, automakers are increasingly adding technology to vehicles that is designed to address rear visibility concerns,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair. “However, AAA’s testing of these systems reveals significant shortcomings when used in real-world conditions, and Americans should rely more on driving skills than technology.”

The Current State of Parking Safety Tech

In partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, AAA tested rear cross-traffic alert systems designed to warn drivers of traffic passing behind a reversing vehicle. Researchers found that significant system limitations exist when a car is parked between larger vehicles, such as SUVs or minivans.

In this common parking lot scenario, AAA said, the tested systems failed to detect pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, and other approaching vehicles at alarming rates:

  • A passing motorcycle was not detected by the systems in 48% of tests.
  • The systems failed to detect a bicycle passing behind the vehicle 40% of the time.
  • The systems failed to detect a passing vehicle 30% of the time.
  • While not all systems are designed to detect , the technology failed to detect 60% of the time.

“AAA’s independent testing showed that rear cross-traffic alert systems failed to work effectively in several test vehicles,” cautioned Megan McKernan, manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California’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.”

Previous AAA testing of rear-view camera systems revealed significant parking lot safety benefits, including greater visibility of the rear blind zone by an average of 46%.

However, AAA stressed that no system shows 100% of the space behind a vehicle and that rain, snow, or slush can impede camera visibility.

“When it comes to parking, the majority of American drivers are on the naughty list this year,” Nielsen said. “Pulling out of a parking spot, instead of reversing, is an easy way to increase safety and visibility in busy parking lots this holiday season.”

How Fleets Can Establish Safe Driver Practices

The use of rear-view mirror backup cameras and similar auto collision avoidance features can sharply increase pedestrian safety in parking garages, mall parking lots, street parking areas, and other public places where motor vehicles are left for extended periods.

Since 2018, auto manufacturers have been required by law to include rear-view camera systems on new vehicles. Older fleet vehicles that are not already outfitted with these kinds of car tech devices for parking lot safety should ideally be upgraded with a rear-view mirror camera or similar equipment.

Rear-view mirror backup cameras are inexpensive, easy to install, and can go a long way toward lowering the likelihood of an auto accident in a parking area. As driver safety aids, their benefits far outweigh their cost—especially when you consider that 20% of collisions involving commercial vehicles occur at speeds under 5 mph.  

Nonetheless, it’s clear that driver safety can’t depend entirely on this kind of auto collision detection technology. Car safety features like cameras aren’t foolproof—far from it. That’s why drivers should be encouraged to follow the pull-through parking procedure whenever lot conditions permit it.

An alternative safe driver procedure is reverse parking into a space. This can be useful when it’s not possible to find a spot where the vehicle can simply pull through. By carefully backing into a space, the vehicle ends up in the same position as in a pull-through maneuver. Reverse parking isn’t as simple or convenient as a pull-through, but it similarly helps in reducing the chances of a car accident while exiting the lot.

Taking the time to park a fleet vehicle using pull-through or reverse parking is not only endorsed by the AAA, it’s just common sense—helping drivers avoid imperiling pedestrian safety and causing a potentially tragic auto accident.

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