You may pride yourself on your driving skills, but the truth is you may not be following every rule or best practice correctly. In particular, when it comes to parking, backing into a parking space is a best practice recommended by AAA, North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization.
Visibility and Rear Cross Traffic Alert
So why back into a parking space instead of driving straight in? “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,” says John Nielsen, AAA managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair in a press release.
Furthermore, AAA discovered that rear cross traffic alert systems found in more than one-third of today’s new cars may not provide adequate warning to drivers when backing up. Notably, the organization tested multiple systems used in today’s cars and learned that there are limitations to each one’s effectiveness.
Those limitations vary and are based on real-world practices. For instance, rear cross traffic alert systems typically work well when obstructions are not present. However, in the real world, you’re more than likely to return to your car with other vehicles parked on both sides, such as when you are at the supermarket or the mall parking lot.
The presence of other vehicles can degrade the effectiveness of rear cross traffic alert systems, particularly if you are parked between larger vehicles.
AAA found that whenever larger SUVs or minivans are parked on either side of a car with rear cross traffic alert, the effectiveness of such systems plunged dramatically. Such tests revealed that 48 percent of passing motorcycles were missed and another 40 percent of bicycle riders were also overlooked. Further, 30 percent of cars were missed. And although many of these systems are not designed to detect pedestrians, the technology failed to deliver 60 percent of the time.
“AAA’s independent testing showed that rear cross traffic alert systems failed to work effectively in several test vehicles,” says 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.” Such systems, by the way, cost consumers an average of $2,373 on 2015 model year vehicles. Typically, they’re bundled with other technologies such as a rearview camera.
You’re Not Alone
So, where do you stand in when it comes to parking? AAA says that 76 percent of “U.S. drivers most frequently park their vehicle by pulling forward into a parking spot, rather than backing in. …”
AAA found that 11.6 percent of drivers back into a space most (or all) of the time, while 12.8 percent do so frequently. Men are more likely to back into parking spaces than women, but in all AAA found that 54 percent of drivers report that they rarely or never back into a parking space.
If you’re shopping for a car with rear cross traffic alert, AAA says the system should not be relied upon exclusively to avoid crashes. As tested, such systems have limitations and should be used as a supplement only. Further, backing out of a parking space should be done slowly, with the driver paying attention to blind spots to verify that no person, cyclist or vehicle is approaching.
AAA also recommends backing into a parking space whenever possible. By driving forward out of a parking space, you’ll increase your visibility while reducing the likelihood of a crash.