By: Alan Sidorov
I've written on this subject before, but it bears repeating. As a general procedure, we recommend that drivers reverse into parking lot spots rather than driving in forward. Our municipality, as well as the fire department, call for the use of a spotter for any reversing situations as well. The reason is simple. A very high proportion of incidents, from fender-benders to child fatalities, occur when a motorist is backing up and simply does not see an obstacle in his or her path. Even racing cars are generally backed into their garages.
Rear-view cameras and sensors help, but should never be used as the primary source of information. What if the thing fails, just as a kid on a tricycle is passing by? Even when the devices are working, they generally will not cover 100 per cent of the danger zone.
We do a little show during our advanced driving schools to illustrate just how little can be seen immediately behind an average vehicle. This would not apply to a seven-foot-tall driver, sitting in a Miata with the top down. It does, however, apply to most vehicles and motorists.
Each student in turn gets into the driver's seat, adjusts the mirrors properly, and puts on the seat belt. An instructor takes a tall orange traffic cone and centres it a couple of metres behind the rear bumper. The driver is asked whether they can see the cone. They are permitted to use mirrors, turn to look behind, even raise up in the seat a bit the way one might during reversing. The instructor then moves the cone a metre back, and repeats the question. The process goes on until the top of the cone becomes visible.
The distance the cone can be moved before it is spotted generally varies between five and 10 metres. That constitutes a huge blind spot. Unlike those ads that warn you not to try this at home, we strongly recommend that you give it a go. Rising up in the seat as far as you can may help, but makes control operation more awkward. The real answer, if you are not absolutely sure as to what is behind, is to follow the advice a girlfriend's dad gave me when our high school date ended up in their garage: "Get out!"
Other drivers may not understand what you are up to as you set up to reverse into that parking spot. I usually turn on my four-way flashers as a warning, but even then, a pushy driver might try to squeeze by. This is especially true during the holiday season, when goodwill sometimes takes a back seat to impatience.
Every now and then, circumstances force me to drive forward into my spot but I don't like it. My Volvo AWD wagon is not petite, but seems dwarfed by large pickups, SUVs, and the like. It seems that every time I park nose-in, I end up with some massive vehicle on each side. The result is like backing out of a tunnel, and not the tunnel of love. It's more like an animal cautiously emerging from a den, knowing the enemy lurks outside. I ease the back of the wagon out slowly, alert for horns, pedestrians, shopping carts and whatever else might be wandering the lot.
Finally, I am out in the light, but it is unnecessary stress. Unless you have a spotter on board who is willing to be a traffic cop, try the backup plan.