Smart Ways to Stay Safe

One of every five auto accidents occurs in a parking lot, according to the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers Association. That total does not include all the small nicks and dents that usually go unreported.

Parking lot crashes often occur at low speeds, but they still can lead to expensive repairs and higher insurance premiums. Worse, sometimes pedestrians and drivers are injured.

To minimize your parking lot risks…


Park away from busy areas. Most drivers crowd into the spaces closest to store entrances, leaving other sections of parking lots virtually empty. Your vehicle is much less likely to be bumped or dinged—and you will have better visibility when you pull out—if you take a spot in a little-used section.

Parking away from other vehicles is particularly important in post office, convenience store and dry cleaner parking lots. Vehicle turnover is very rapid in these lots, and all that activity increases the odds of an accident.

Look where you are going. Distracted driving is responsible for many parking lot accidents. We think we see an open spot in the next row or someone we know walking by. This momentary distraction is all it takes for someone to step or pull in front of us in a crowded parking lot. If your car is moving forward, your eyes must be looking forward. Use your peripheral vision to locate open parking spaces.

Completely clear fogged or snow-covered windows and windshields. There is a tendency to rush out of parking lots, but driving with partially blocked windows and/or windshields greatly increases the odds of having a collision.

Put on your seat belt before pulling out, not while driving. Drivers often think they are “safe” in parking lots, so they delay putting on seat belts. That’s a mistake for two reasons—you could get into an accident with no seat belt on before you leave the parking lot… and fumbling with a seat belt while you are driving makes it more likely that you will have an accident.

Also, complete any cell-phone calls, put on your sunglasses if you need them, adjust your CD player or radio and enter data into your navigation system before you pull out of your parking spot.

Do not trust your mirrors. Rearview mirrors do not provide a full picture of what’s happening behind your car. Today’s high-tech backup sensors and rear-mounted cameras do not spot all obstacles, either. To back out of a parking spot safely, rotate your body to the right, looking over your shoulder so that you face backward, leaving your left hand on the wheel.

Look for two empty parking spaces, one behind the other, and pull through to the one in front so that you do not have to back up when it is time to pull out. But make sure nobody is pulling into the front spot from the other end.

Avoid danger zones. Skip spots next to big vans or SUVs if you are in a smaller vehicle—you will have a hard time seeing past these vehicles when it is time to pull out. Also, try to avoid spots next to cart-collection areas—the odds of dings and dents are greatest here.

Turn on your headlights, even in daylight. Headlights warn pedestrians and other drivers that your vehicle will soon pull out.

Don’t feel hurried by other drivers. Hurrying leads to accidents. The driver eager to have your space can wait a few more seconds as you take the time to pull out carefully.


Look for signs of movement. Before you step out into the parking lot, pause for a moment and check for signs that a car may be pulling out of a parking spot. Cars are so quiet that you may not even hear the engine starting. Look and listen for…

  • A puff of exhaust.
  • Reverse lights coming on.
  • A car door being closed—which could signal that a driver has entered the car and will soon back out.
  • Movement in the driver’s seat. Examples: The driver reaching for his seat belt or turning around to back out of a spot.

Don’t get distracted. Stay alert at all times. Don’t make cell-phone calls, use an iPod or rummage through your purse or wallet to find your coupons. Be aware of what’s going on behind you by quickly checking over your shoulder from time to time as you walk through the lot.

Watch out for big vehicles. Parked SUVs and vans can block your view of cars backing out. As you pass by a big vehicle, pause a moment to check that a car isn’t coming.

Be extra cautious at night. It’s extremely difficult for drivers to see pedestrians at night, especially if they’re wearing dark clothing. Assume that even though you can see the driver, the driver cannot see you.

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