A Man Tries the 'Back-up-to-Park' Fad

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Back when I lived in Maryland, I noticed that large numbers of people backed into parking spaces, rather than simply driving into them. I tried to learn why then, and the answers I could find basically consisted of vague assertions that it was "safer," sometimes festooned with statistics that may or may not have been inaccurate, incorrectly applied to the question, or irrelevant.

Such drivers stand out to me, and have had me scratching my head since. Sometimes, they waste my time in parking lots with their antics, and have even -- because of unintuitively switching to reverse as I was getting ready to park -- nearly caused me to have an accident. (!)

(To be fair, it can sometimes make sense to park this way. For example, my next-door neighbor in Florida owned a very large pickup truck that he'd back into his driveway. It's relatively easy to do, and the prospect of a toddler wandering into his driveway when he needs to drive is much greater than that of a parent allowing a toddler to wander in a parking lot.)

Enter one Matthew Dicks, who is not content to stew in mild bewilderment or frustration. He decided to try to understand this odd practice, and decided to try it for a week.

His conclusions after doing so pretty well confirm what I concluded after some time observing this phenomenon and occasionally having to interact with the drivers. I especially like his sixth item, which comes after his consideration of other aspects of this practice and its alleged benefits:

The biggest drawback to backing into a parking spot, and the reason I will not be backing into parking spots in the future, is time. Not only do I sacrifice my own time by backing into a spot (which always takes longer), but I discovered that if there is a vehicle following you in a parking lot, backing into a parking spot delays that vehicle considerably from moving forward and finding their own parking spot. Rather than pulling forward into a spot, I must instead drive past the desired parking spot, stop the car, turn my body so it's in position to drive in reverse, shift into reverse, and then begin the slow process of backing into the spot.

If I'm backing out of a parking spot, I can do all these things without delaying anyone. I can take my time because I am safely tucked away into my own spot. When I'm in the middle of the lane with other vehicles waiting to find a spot, this process becomes a serious delay for others.

In two instances, the driver behind me pulled close enough to me that part of their vehicle was blocking the spot that I planned on backing into, and in both cases, I didn't blame them. They had no idea that I was preparing to engage in this ridiculous maneuver and simply continued moving forward until I could no longer access the desired spot. In both cases, I instead drove forward to a new spot, feeling foolish while doing so. [I have been that driver more than a few times. --ed]

If everyone backed into their parking spots, I am convinced that parking lots would become nightmares to drive through. Vehicles would constantly be delayed as drivers executed the required steps to back into a parking spot. [bold added]
Let me say I fully agree with the following alternate recommendation:
In fact, if you want to be safer in a parking lot, experts advise that you park farther away from the entrance, where pedestrian and vehicular traffic is less congested. This is the single best way to avoid an accident in a parking lot.
This is true and, on really busy days, it is a great way to save time. In fact, I sometimes do this specifically to save time, and have walked past cars that I saw hunting or waiting for spaces close to the store as I drove up.

A big bonus to this is that for the one undeniable benefit of parking front-out, one can often drive forward through an empty space to be in position to do this near the fringes of the lot.

Then you get to park quickly and have fast egress.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

I've had safety officers on jobsites require us to do this as a safety precaution. It's faster to pull out of a space forward than it is to back out of a space, and if there's an emergency you need to save time however you can. After a while it becomes a habit, which is the intent--any safety procedure you do by habit is one you won't have to be reminded of should an emergency arise.

That said, the trend of treating every situation as if it were an emergency or could immediately become one is in and of itself troubling. It's one thing to plan for emergencies on a hazardous waste cleanup site that's subject to regularly emergency evacuations; it's a whole other thing to treat a trip to Walmart as a potential emergency that you need to take extraordinary precautions for. In the former case it's reasonable to expect emergencies to arise, both because of the nature of the work (they don't put you in SCBAs for nothing!) and because the history of the site demonstrates such precautions are a good idea. In the latter, it's every-day life, and while emergencies CAN happen, there's something fundamentally wrong with the psychology of someone who lives every day waiting for the bullet to hit the bone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

I'm a delivery driver with a fixed route and nearly always back into a parking space if I can't drive forward through two of them to face outwards.

On one occasion, I did pull into a parking space facing forward as there was a vehicle behind me that I did not want to inconvenience. I made the delivery, and as I was leaving I realized that the mid-morning sun reflecting off of my back window so brightly that I could not see anything thru my rear view mirror.

I got out of the truck, walked around behind the vehicle, verified that no one was behind, got back in my truck and used my two side view mirrors to commence backing out.


By the time that I had walked the 5 feet back to my door, I had a fellow who had parked in a thoroughfare directly behind me where I couldn't see him with my side view mirrors. I believe that it was a deliberate act as the only damage I did was to his rear door handle and he tried to hold up my insurance company for thousands in damage. Fortunately, the insurance company refused the extortion and only replaced his door.

I make it a policy to back into parking spaces if I can't pull through and am willing to wait for traffic to clear in order to do so.

c andrew

Gus Van Horn said...

Dinwar and C.,

You both give good examples of when it does make sense to park front-out: Emergency responders do indeed nee fast egress and some types of vehicles are unsuited for backing out compared to regular cars or small trucks. It's a shame that the one time C. relaxed his guard, he got dinged (figuatively, by the guy who purposely got dinged, literally).

I do agree with Dinwar that it is a foolish policy to treat EVERY situation like an emergency.