Parking by pulling in front-first is a bit like making love without foreplay.
It seems the easiest way to go, but, not long after you start, you find yourself fiddling around trying to get the angles right, nudging forward a bit, and then back a bit, and then forward. Pretty soon, it becomes obvious that you should have simply taken a little time at the beginning of the exercise and reversed in to your space. A little effort early on and you would be parked comfortably between the lines, free to go about your business.
It’s strange then that, when you scan a parking lot, 90 per cent of the automobiles you see have been clumsily rammed in by drivers who think it’s more efficient to trust fate and push in front-first. (Note: This is a parking article. If you are allergic to gratuitous double entendres you may want to pop a Claritin.)
Why is front-first so appealing? Why is it so prevalent that it was the basis for a Seinfeld episode (No. 39, The Parking Space)? Well, it seems to be the easiest manoeuvre. We like to follow our noses and we’re already driving forward, so the front-first park is a lazy extension of our preexisting course.
The trouble, as every driving instructor and most car columnists will tell you, is that you’re trading short-term gain for long-term pain. Going in front-first means you have to employ the withdrawal method (see, I warned you) when you leave. You must back out into traffic and, if you’re at a mall parking lot, you must be aware of pedestrians passing by laden with shopping bags. This is by far the more dangerous move. You have cars, bicycles and pedestrians moving about and you are now trying to reverse into this traffic flow.
When you back into a parking space, you are reversing between, at worst, two parked vehicles – two stationary objects. They’re not going to ram into you. They’re not going to suddenly jolt forward and smack you. If your reverse isn’t perfect, you can simply take your time and try again. When it’s time to leave, you can drive forward, your eyes open, with lots of peripheral vision, into all that moving traffic.
Now, don’t you wish you’d just spent a little time warming up in reverse so that you could have a more satisfying park?
In a parking lot, the choice is clear. Reverse in. Always.
When it comes to street parking, the debate gets a little more complicated (see Seinfeld episode No. 39), but I still maintain that reversing into a space is ultimately the more safe and efficient method.
Unfortunately, it’s more daunting to parallel park when you have cars and bicycles driving by. Drivers make it difficult for each other by turning Mad Max when they see a person parallel parking. Instead of stopping and letting the motorist complete the park, they blow by aggressively. Some cyclists don’t help. They pass on the right (where you’re parking) rather than on the left. The onus is still on the driver to be aware and not hit anyone or anything, but passing on the right-hand side of a parallel park makes it very difficult.
The result is that many drivers will opt to pull in front-first if they think they have enough room on the street. The reality? They rarely do. They pull in only to discover that their car is at a 45-degree angle to the curb. Its end is sticking out into traffic and now they have to do what feels like an 85-point turn in order to micro-park their vehicle. You can always spot these parkers. Their cars are the ones with their tires stuck roughly to the curb.
Again, a little effort early will pay dividends. Commit to the parallel park. Put on your signal, brag to your passenger about your prowess (a la George Costanza) and take your time to back gracefully into your waiting spot.
Aside from the practical concerns, doing things in reverse has other advantages. I think of it as the “Power Park.”
The driver who takes the time and care to park properly by reversing into a space sends a message to the world. It doesn’t matter what kind of car they own, the fact they are accomplished and assured enough to go against the front-first pull-in mob demonstrates that here is a person of consequence and sophistication. When you pass by their vehicle, its front proudly facing forward, you instantly recognize that here is a motorist to be reckoned with.
Here is a driver, a Zen master, who knows that sometimes the best move forward is by putting it in reverse.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy