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Is It Better to Back In to a Parking Space?

Back in, or pull in front first? Experts argue that one method clearly reduces the probability of accidents upon departure. 

Whether it's cooking an egg, skinning a cat, or building an underground bunker to prepare for end times, there is usually more than one way to do most things. When it comes to driving a car, for example, motorists tend to have some wildly varying ideas about how to best get from Point A to Point B. That's not to mention timeless driving debates over how to occupy the far left lane on a highway, when to turn on your lights, if you should pull over for a funeral procession ... and whether beef jerky or peanut M&Ms is the optimal snack for a long drive.

Then there's the question of what to do when you want to stop driving and leave your car somewhere. Many motorists are united in their strict aversion to parallel parking, but how to navigate other spots is still a source of some debate. Is it better to turn headfirst into a parking space? Or to take the time to park backed in, facing out, in what some refer to as battle parking?

Think Safety

Buckle up for the answer — for both safety and efficiency purposes, the experts say it's usually best to back into a parking space. That's because having a wide field of vision is more important when you're pulling out of a parking space than it is when you are pulling in.

"When you back in, it's into a defined space where people are not likely to be," says Catherine Peterman, an architect who has helped design parking lots across the United States. "When you pull out, you are pulling into traffic and possibly into pedestrians."

Sure, technological advances like rear side cameras and those sensors that make beeping noises when you get too close to a person, another car or the human-sized watermelon the neighborhood kids laid out in the driveway as a prank help make backing out easier. But the affect those cameras have had on reducing accidents has been gradual, at best. Peterman and Vanessa Solesbee, a spokesperson for the International Parking Institute, say that's because backing out is still not as easy as driving out head first.

"There are a lot more obstacles these days that you have to look out for, like bikes, pedestrians, scooter and longboards," Solesbee says. "That makes back-in parking more attractive, because you can see the traffic when you pull out."

Design Debate

Peterman and Solesbee both acknowledge that backing in to a parking space is often easier said than done. New or inexperienced drivers may feel uncomfortable trying to negotiate a prime space backwards. The rest of us may simply feel pressure (or hear the shrieking honks) from traffic as it piles up during the process, as backing in can take a few more seconds than pulling in front-fender first.

That's why Peterman recommends that drivers look for spots where the space in front of you is also open so you can pull through.

"As an architect, I'm trying to design for the safety of the pedestrian," she says. "Pulling through is safer for them and easier for the driver."

Where Peterman and Solesbee disagree is over how to best design parking spaces to encourage drivers to back in.

Peterman favors parking spaces oriented at 90-degree right angles; think of rectangles like those seen in many shopping mall and other large lots and garages. That's partly because they are easier to pull through than angle spots. But it's also because she says angle spots are simply too difficult for many drivers to try to back into.

Solesbee, however, counters that angle spots are the way to go for street and lot parking, because they are more efficient and accommodate more cars, even if they are tougher to back in to.

"There are lots that do a really great job with signage, showing people that you need to back into this space," she says. Still, convincing folks to back that thang up is going to take some time. That's especially true as smartphones, smart dashboards and other technological advances within cars compete for drivers' time and attention.

"Backing into a space in a big lot is not intuitive for most people at this time," Solesbee says. "We're not becoming worse drivers, we're just paying attention less."

And while the experts may say it's the way to go, not everyone is so quick to adopt the practice. The Washington Post recently opened a floodgate of comments when it invited readers to comment on their preferences. "It's a trend that irks me so much," wrote one reader, while another vented, "It's maddening to be blocked from parking by people who are carefully maneuvering to fit the backs of their cars into tight parking spaces."

But then, one Washington Post reader makes a practical point about jump-starting a car: "If you are nose-in and have vehicles all around you, there is no way to jump-start unless you have a portable jumper."


This article was originally published on How Stuff Works.