Monday, December 7, 2009

Etiquette for a Parallel (Parking) Universe

If I say 'Driving Etiquette', what's the first thing that pops into your head? Speeders? Tailgaters? Mobile phone junkies? People who park in the fire lane at the grocery store? Drivers who park over the line in a crowded parking lot? People who empty their ashtrays at intersections?

Or, perhaps you don't have a complaint about other drivers, but a question about your own driving - 4-way stop etiquette, gas pump etiquette (I recommend moving to New Jersey where it's illegal to pump your own gas - what a great state!), or the etiquette when merging in a construction zone . . . the list is endless. But, today I want to address one simple aspect of driving: Parallel Parking.

The rule is this: If you don't know how to parallel park, don't do it!

It's that simple. Don't block traffic while you back in and out and in and out trying to get your car close enough to the curb (100-point turns are only amusing if the driver is Austin Powers). I learned to parallel park in Driver's Ed - perhaps they only teach that in small towns where students have the opportunity to practice in a real setting . . . ? Because many of the drivers who try to park in this town fail miserably - so why don't they use the off-street parking instead? It's free and usually available in the same block!

If you want to parallel park, but don't quite have the courage to try - here are the steps (as learned from Mr. Hunter in 1978):

  1. Pull your car parallel to the car in front of the space in which you wish to park. Your car must be at least as far forward as the parked car (this is where most people go astray).
  2. Reverse slowly. When the middle of your car is beside the rear bumper of the car beside you, begin to turn - think of your back right tire going towards the curb in the center of the parking space.
  3. As you continue to reverse, straighten out the turn and your car should be parallel to the curb by the time you're fully in the parking space. (Don't straighten out too early, then you'll be too far from the curb!)
  4. Pull forward to center your car in the space.
That's it - it's really quite easy and fun. With a bit of practice (not during a busy time on a busy street!), you'll be able to park with just these two movements every time. And, as I learned in Drivers' Ed all those years ago (feel free not to do the math!), if you don't get it right in the first two movements, you will probably not be able to correctly park by small back and forth movements! At best your vehicle will be parallel, but quite far from the curb.

And, once you've mastered that you can move on to parking on the reverse side of the street - that does take a bit of practice!

And since we can all use a refresher from time to time - check out this snippet of a clever song I heard recently on Car Talk: Driving Lesson by Don Burnham. You'll probably want to buy the CD or song; I'm putting it on my Christmas list right now! (Who doesn't need a reminder to "keep those round black things down; keep that shiny side up!)

Happy Motoring!


  1. I'm going to go out and practice right now...well maybe not, it's awful cold out there.
    By the way, it's illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon too.

  2. It's good to know that Oregon is also a 'no-pump' state - that's another great reason to visit!


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