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driving concerns

When I'm trying to parallel park, how do I keep other cars off my tail? I put on my turn signal when I get past the space and need to back up, but I usually get a car who pulls up right to my rear end so I can't reverse. The driver either doesn't understand or care that I'm trying to park. I end up having to go straight and give up the spot. – Kevin, Toronto

Parallel parking is no walk in the park when the car behind you has no idea what you're doing.

"You have to let them know before you stop, when you're several cars before the one you want," says Angelo DiCicco, General Manager of Young Drivers of Canada. "If you put the signal on too late, they're picking their nose, or sipping coffee or glancing at a text and they don't have time to go around you."

You should be able to spot your parking space before you're directly beside it, DiCicco says. And that space had better fit your car – and your ability to park.

"It should be one-and-a-half car lengths – you can do it if it's shorter but you have to practise," DiCicco says. "You don't want to have to do 50 three-point turns to get in."

The turn signal alone might not be enough to convey the message that hey, you're trying to park here.

"If you're near an intersection, they may think that you're signalling because you're going to be turning," DiCicco says. "So you slow down early, at least one car length before the car you want, and you turn on the four-way flashers – that's the universal signal that you're somebody they want to avoid."

It's not illegal in Ontario to drive with your flashers, also known as hazard lights. The Highway Traffic Act doesn't specify when you should or shouldn't use them.

Next step: turn off the flashers, flick on your turn signal and move ahead by at least half-a-car length to where you need to start backing up. Then, put your car into reverse, activating the back-up lights.

"If you don't put your car into reverse and just wait there, then you haven't communicated with the car behind you," DiCicco says.

If the flashers, the turn signal and the back-up lights aren't giving the driver's behind you the hint – and you don't have a big cardboard sign saying, "I am parallel parking" – then it might be time to roll down your window and wave them around you, DiCicco says.

"Usually most people are very gracious – they're glad it's you trying to parallel park and not them," DiCicco says.

Once the cars behind you figure out that you're parking, they'll either wait or go around, he says.

"Most people will give you 10, 15, 20 seconds – what they don't like is 30 seconds, 45 seconds; a minute and a half," DiCicco says. "That's when you get frustrated and they get frustrated – and when people are frustrated, you get crashes."

You can use the same signals if you're backing into a parking spot or a driveway, DiCicco says.

Parallel parking takes skill and practice. If you can't do it quickly, it might be better to find a spot you can pull into a few blocks further away and walk, DiCicco says.

"On the road test, they couldn't care less if you can parallel park," he says. "They want to know that you can manoeuvre the vehicle in a confined space."

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