This holiday season, as shopping center parking lots fill with millions of vehicles, 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 percent 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 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 such safety technology 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.”
In partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, AAA tested rear cross-traffic alert systems designed to alert drivers to 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 vehicles at alarming rates:
- A passing motorcycle was not detected by the systems in 48 percent of tests.
- The systems failed to detect a bicycle passing behind the vehicle 40 percent of the time.
- The systems failed to detect a passing vehicle 30 percent of the time.
- While not all systems are designed to detect pedestrians, the technology failed to detect pedestrians 60 percent 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, required on all new vehicles by 2018, revealed significant safety benefits including greater visibility of the rear blind zone by an average of 46 percent.
However, AAA stressed that no system shows 100 percent 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.”