Taken For Granted: Driving Safely In Parking Lots

You’re not thinking about it. You’re thinking about snagging the closest spot to the store. You’re thinking about angling into that sweet spot when every other spot is taken. You’re thinking that jerk stole your spot, or that maybe if you circle again, that guy idling in the literal best spot in the lot might have finally pulled out. 

By LightField Studios / Shutterstock.com

You’re probably not thinking about safety. 

According to My Parking Sign, a “staggering” 1 in 3 motor vehicle accidents take place in parking lots, and they account for 14 percent of all car insurance claims. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that from 200802011, the latest time from which data is available, an average of 1,621 people were killed in parking lots per year. That’s a lot of people meeting their end in the lot of a Target, a Walmart, a Best Buy, a mall, or any other part of the ubiquitous concrete field part and parcel of the American landscape — you know, the one we think is totally safe.

The statistics show that 39 percent of the those fatalities were non-occupants of the cars — such as pedestrians and bikers — and in addition, 91,000 people were injured every year in parking-lot related incidents. 

More than one-fifth of those pedestrian deaths, says My Parking Sign, were children between the ages of 5 and 9. 

And you were worried you’d have to carry your bags too far. 

So what should you be doing, instead of sharking around for the perfect spot? There are several things you can do to make your time in a parking lot a safer one. 

Leave your phone alone. The National Safety Council found that 66 percent of drivers admitted they would make calls while driving through parking lots. To break it down: 63 percent would program GPS; 56 percent would text; 52 percent would use social media; and 50 percent would send or receive emails. Distracted driving is always a bad idea — no matter where you are — and the majority of parking lot fatalities happen while the victim is actually in the car at the time. 

Don’t uni-focus. My Parking Sign says that drivers will often zero in on an empty spot and forget to watch for things — like pedestrians or reversing cars — around them. 

Obey the rules of the road. The NSC says this includes obeying all stop signs and marked lines on the road that tell you to stop. Do not cut across rows of spaces. Stick to the posted speed limit in the lot — yes, even if it’s ten miles per hour — and use your turn signals. All of this makes you a predictable driver, and predictable drivers are easier to anticipate, and hence less likely to get hurt.

[We’ve also got personal security tips for staying safe in parking lots.]

Watch for distracted walkers. As EHSToday says, “From 2001-2011, more than 11,000 pedestrians were seriously injured because they were distracted by their phones.” Pedestrian death also leapt 9 percent from 2015 to 2014. You need to be alert to anticipate the movements of the cars around you, especially the ones who may be backing up. NCS estimates that more than one-third of pedestrian deaths happen because of back-up injuries. And if you’re a driver, you’ve gotta accept that parking lot pedestrians may not be paying attention.

Be careful backing out. Again, always watch for pedestrians. Use your rearview mirrors, all of them, to check on both sides of the car and behind to see if a group of people is near. Wait until they have passed before you move. It’s worth investing in a backup alert system or camera that tells you if something, especially something small, is behind you. This could save a child’s life in the parking lot. Back slowly and carefully, and move away smoothly at the speed limit — without messing with your phone, your hair, your GPS, or your Facebook. 

When you’re in a parking lot, act like you’re driving on a real road. Obey the rules. Stay alert. Use defensive driving techniques. Anticipate other drivers’ (and pedestrians’) movements, and take special precautions to assure that you’re alert to all that’s going on — and how distracted other drivers and pedestrians probably are.

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on Time.com.

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