General Ideas Productivity

ALWAYS Back-In to Parking Spaces

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a couple years now and I’ve just never gotten around to it. A couple weeks ago, my friend Sindy Martin posted the following on Twitter:
Sindy Martin - Smartin-Up Your Professionalism - If you back your car into a parking space it gives the impression that you can't wait to leave. #manners

Sindy knows a lot about professional etiquette, and I admire her work greatly, but I have to disagree with her on this one. Her comment encouraged me to finally write this. Thanks, Sindy!

Backing into parking spaces is safer, easier, and more efficient than pulling in directly. Although it may give others the impression that you are in a hurry to leave, I feel it gives the impression that you are safe and conscientious–which I think are both an important part of presenting yourself in a professional manner.

Backing in is SAFER. When I tell people this, they initially think I’m crazy, but let me explain myself. You have to put your car in reverse either as you enter the parking space or as you leave. So, you are backing your car at some point in the parking process. Since you have to put your car in reverse at some time, you should do it at the safest time.

There are probably people driving and walking in the parking lot. Each of these could result in an dangerous collision. When you are backing your car, you have the least amount of visibility because you can only look over one shoulder at a time, there are additional blind spots created by the body of the car (usually between the rear window and rear side windows), and if you use mirrors you like have a blind-spot in each of them too. So, the best way to be safe is to either limit the area in which potential collisions can happen and to be better aware of the activity around you–backing-in provides both of these.

When you pull into a parking lot aisle you can see all the other cars and pedestrians that are currently in motion; you have excellent awareness of what is going on around you. You find a spot you want to back in, pull up a few feet ahead of it, and then begin backing into the spot. Once your car begins to enter the spot, it is extremely unlikely that there will be any pedestrians or other cars within that spot with which you might collide. Although you do have to pay attention to how close you are to the cars beside and behind you, they are not likely in motion. As for any other pedestrians or cars in the open aisle, you are in the part of the car that is closest to the aisle and you have an unobstructed view of the aisle. When you are ready to leave the space, you will likewise have the same open view of the aisle into which you will be pulling. You’ll be able to easily see pedestrians, other cars in the aisle, and other cars that are pulling into the aisle. How often have you and a person behind you been backing out at the same time and you’ve either almost collided or both waited a long time for one of you to back out first?

If you pull-in to the parking space, then you have a generally unobstructed view of the space into which you are parking and don’t need to be greatly concerned about what is going on behind your car. The problem comes when you are ready to back out. As you walked to your car, you made a mental note about the other cars and people walking in the aisle. However, by the time you get into the car, fasten your seat belt, start the car, and put it in reverse, the aisle has changed considerably; now you don’t know what is behind you at this point. You likely have cars (or maybe large SUVs or vans) on each side of you that is also obstructing your view. Your perspective is also limited by the fact that you are in the space in the car that is furthest from the opening, you have blindspots, you can only look over one shoulder at a time, and even your mirrors have blind spots. Even if you back out very slowly, you are depending on others to watch out for you more than you are watching out for them–because you can’t see them!

Backing in is EASIER. You may have a hard time believing this one. I’ve had passengers express their surprise when I back into a parking space because they find it difficult. However, as I said earlier, you either have to back into the space or back out of it. You are using the same skill either way–driving in reverse. I find backing easier because when I back in, the wheels that turn the vehicle are at the furthest point in the turn–this gives me more control over the position of the vehicle. Have you ever noticed that when you pull-in to a parking space you often have to back out and then pull back in to either straighten your vehicle or to get it more to one side of the space? When the steering wheels are on the outside of the turn (instead of the inside of the turn) you have much more flexibility and control of the vehicle and you can position it much more accurately.

If you’re nervous about backing in, you probably just need a little more experience. I recommend that you find a parking lot that isn’t busy, find a couple cars that have an empty parking space between them and spend some time practicing backing in. Maybe go with a couple friends and take turns backing between your own vehicles. I think that most people only really need to successfully do this a few times to feel that they’ve got it. It really is easy, you just need to overcome the initial fear.

Backing in is MORE EFFICIENT. When I park, I am usually thinking about the egress–I’m thinking, “How easily and quickly can I leave when it is time to leave?” That doesn’t mean that I’m in a hurry to leave, only that I want to be able to leave in the most efficient manner as possible. For example, when I travel and park at the airport I look for parking spaces that provide both easy access to the exit as well as to the terminal; I’ve likely arrived early and have plenty of time to park, but I want to get back home. 🙂 I can pull forward out of a space faster than I can back out (I have to back out slowly because it’s unsafe, remember?).

Other thoughts on parking and parking lots. I don’t always back-in to parking spaces, but I probably back-in more often than I pull-in. Of course, in angled parking I always pull-in because angled parking is designed to make backing out easier and safer–traffic flows in one direction and by being angled you have a less obstructed view of the aisle. Please don’t drive the wrong way down an angled parking aisle and NEVER pull through in angled parking or else you’ll have to pull out the wrong way which is very unsafe.

Don’t spend time driving around looking for a good parking space. I’ll usually park in the first space I see that is relatively convenient, regardless of how far away from the building it is. I always laugh when I’m walking down the parking lot aisle and the person who was driving in front of me in the aisle is waiting for someone close to the store to back out while I walk past them. Although they start out ahead of me, I still end up in the store long before they do. I would just rather not waste my time sitting in my car in a parking lot (unless there is something really good on the radio 🙂 ).

Handicap parking spaces are for those people who really need them. A lot of people who have the stickers to park there don’t seem to really need to park there. I don’t think these parking spaces were created just so people with physical handicaps can be close to the building to shorten the distance, but rather to decrease the time and effort it takes physically handicapped people to get into the building. People with wheelchairs and walkers need to spend as little time in the elements (heat, cold, rain, and snow) as possible. These people often need extra space around their vehicle for their wheelchairs and walkers. I get so angry when I see people in wheelchairs (or with walkers) slowly making their way across a parking lot because all the handicap spots were taken up by people who were able to walk into the store with apparent little trouble (and then walk 1/4-mile around inside the store with little apparent trouble too). Just because you own the sticker and have the legal right to park there doesn’t mean you always should–try to think of other people. There is a reason the handicap symbol shows a person in a wheelchair.

When you empty your shopping cart, return it to the store or the nearest cart corral. In my opinion, nothing epitomizes laziness more than seeing someone leave a shopping cart in a parking space. You walked 1/4-mile around inside the store doing your shopping, is it really that much more effort to push the cart 50- to 100-feet to where it belongs? It keeps the parking lot looking nicer for the rest of us. If I happen to see that you have left one in the parking lot, I’ll gladly return it for you since I’m walking that way anyway. In fact, if I see you pushing one back I’ll probably ask to take it the rest of the way for you since it will save me some time once I get to the store. Besides, I don’t want to accidentally hit your shopping cart while I’m backing into my parking space. 🙂

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  • Reply
    12/9/2010 at 11:47 am

    I mostly agree and am so happy someone has finally said this and said it well.

    I just found your blog and LOVE it.

    2 things though about backing into parking spots. It is not a good Idea to do so when you will need trunk access. More than once I have had issues when coming out of a store and finding someone has nosed up to my trunk and I am not able to load my purchases into the trunk without great difficulty.

    Also, there are some people who are just not very precise drivers, and while I pretty much hate that they are even allowed to drive, the reality is that they need the extra space available when backing out of a parking spot to compensate for their inability to keep their car in a specific area.

    Also, regarding the handicap parking issues. This is a huge thing with me and makes my blood boil because my first husband was “handicapped” and used a parking permit while battling cancer (he died from it in ’99). The reality is that there are a lot of people who are totally scamming the system by using a permit that does not belong to them or a permit that they no longer need. You would not believe the trouble it causes when you need a spot – especially one with the extra space to transfer into and out of a wheelchair, but none is available. Or when you come out of someplace and find your wheelchair loading area next to, and part of your handicapped parking space, has been taken up by a car! Yikes!

    But, while my husband did end up completely wheelchair bound, for the first year or so, he was mostly able to walk. However, he could not walk very far at all and certainly met the handicapped permit criteria of not being able to walk more than I think 500 feet.

    He loved nothing more than to be out and about, but had a very painful cancer, which included compression fractures of his spine. He was determined to walk as he was able and because of his very long legs, even his slow labored walk, typically didn’t look anything but normal. Also, because of the high doses of steroids he was on as part of his chemo, he frequently looked “robust” when he was anything but.

    So, our typical MO was to park in the very closest spot we could get (with room for the extra maneuvering needed with the reduced mobility), walk at what most people would consider a normal speed, LOOKING COMPLETELY NORMAL to most people into the store. My husband grabbed the closest cart and using it for support walked up and down an aisle or maybe even 2 until he was too exhausted/in pain to continue and then he found a seat, where he rested, recovered, people watched and waited for me. When I was ready to go, ideally he was also ready, but sometimes I had to load the car and then pick him up at the door.

    You would not believe the incredibly rude comments we would get upon parking in a handicapped space. I guess it didn’t help that he was in his mid-thirties, but even before seeing him MOVE away from the car, people started in. We also got some very rude comments (mostly from older men) questioning my husband’s manliness, worth as a human being, you name it, upon observing me “doing the work” (carrying things while he was empty handed, etc.)

    Cancer patients (and I am sure anyone else with a major medical problem) get sick of the constant focus on their problem and so do not actually wear a sign around their neck saying “I have terminal cancer, have a very hard time getting around and in fact, will be dying soon.”

    Even though we thought we looked completely normal, as we put a lot of effort into that, we did occasionally run into people who recognized the look of someone on high doses of steroids, caught a glimpse of and recognized the tiny tube coming out of the back of his fanny pack and into his shirt between the buttons as coming from a chemo infuser or noticed some other tiny clue and as a complete stranger, just walking past us, would pause, get a very sympathetic look on their face and with a pat on the arm just say a quick “I’ve been there, keep up the fight.”

    What I learned from this is that you can NEVER really know someone’s situation or what difficulties they are dealing with. Not only with my husband dealing with cancer, but as a woman moving through life looking like a normal happy-go-lucky, active 36 year-old (maybe a little ditsy, as grieving does that to you), but with an indescribable amount of emotional pain, I learned that there were plenty of other “normal” people, who were suffering even more than I was.

    Oh, and for the record, more often than not, the need for, and legal use of a handicapped space is by people who are not able to walk more than a short distance and you would be shocked at how many people are limited in their walking distance by pain, strength or energy.

    Look at it this way. I am in good shape as I work out at a gym a lot and also run. It is nothing to go for a 3 mile stroll with my dogs. If I was going to walk 6 miles, I would probably give some thought to the shoes I wore. A 30 mile walk would be a challenge and I am sure I could not walk 40 miles. As good of shape that I am in, as pain free that I am, as many red blood cells that I have and as great as my oxygen capacity it, I expect that by mile 35, it would be all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. If you stumble into your house after mile 35, no humane person would ask you to walk to the library 2 miles away to return a book. In fact, they probably wouldn’t even ask you to walk as far as your car to drive there. Think about the people who hit the same point physically at yard 35 as we might at mile 35.

    Like I said, you are right, there are a lot of people using permits who shouldn’t and it is unconscionable to take those benefits from people who need the, but it is unlikely you can tell you needs them.

    Also bear in mind that a very valid and needed use for those permits is for the driver of a handicapped person. i.e. when I parked in a handicapped spot and jogged into a building, you couldn’t make a fair judgment until you saw me return form the building with my wheelchair bound husband.

    Yes, I know I am way up on a soap box, but even almost 11 years later, as I type this, it brings tears to my eyes remembering the mean and hurtful things that people said to my poor husband. So, people, if you are using a handicapped permit you shouldn’t be using – you are a slime ball. Stop! If you are not doing this, don’t judge others you think are.

  • Reply
    12/9/2010 at 12:25 pm

    Kim – Thanks for your comments and the enlightenment from another perspective concerning those who use the handicapped parking spaces. That added a lot to the conversation here!

  • Reply
    12/5/2014 at 3:19 am

    For what it’s worth, backing into a parking space is very common where I’m from, and I, too, personally prefer it (in fact, I sometimes have trouble parking the other way).

    The thing is, most building owners/managers do not like it and many have signs that say, “Park Facing the Wall,” probably because the walls become black and sooty over time.

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