Road Worrier

Drivers consider back-in parking safer

Staff WriterMay 26, 2009 

The Road Worrier received a flood of answers -- all of them roughly the same -- to one reader's innocent question about a local driving quirk:

"What is this thing about backing into parking spaces in parking lots?" asked Phil Stork of Apex.

Stork's question helped a lot of us find a little something we could agree on, for a change: Back-in parking is clever, and it is wise. It's uptown. It's out of town. It's traditional. It's modern.

Essentially, according to the collective wisdom of drivers from Raleigh to Greenville, backing into a parking spot is safer than backing out of it.

"It is much safer to go forward from a parking space -- where you can actually see what is coming -- than trying to back out blind from between two big honkin' SUVs," Mandi Woomer said by e-mail.

"You've got people who treat the parking lot like their personal racetrack," Mike Sugar said. "And you have to ask about five people's permission to back out of your spot. But if you're facing out, all you have to do is look right, left and go."

An imagined tragedy, more than a decade ago, turned Rane Winslow into a back-in parker. It was a nightmare that she still remembers.

"I dreamed that I was pulling onto Six Forks Road from the old North Hills Mall, when I was forced by oncoming Beltline traffic to back up," Winslow said by e-mail. In the dream she backed over a child, unseen behind her car. Now when she pulls her wagon out of a parking spot, it's head-first.

Dave Grandy learned the secret of back-in parking from a safe-driving instructor hired by his former employer, Research Triangle Park-based Reichhold.

"When you back into the space, you stop traffic, and everybody sees you," he said. "And when you leave, you can see better."

It's that traffic-stopping bit that bugs Phil Stork.

"You're following somebody through the parking lot -- at the RBC for a hockey game, say -- and then for no apparent reason they put on their brakes and go into reverse," Stork said. "When they easily could have pulled in head-first."

There are plenty of head-first parkers out there, I know. At the office, at the store, wherever they park their cars, they like to stick out their rear ends.

But none of them called to side with Stork.

Like Grandy, a lot of us learned back-in parking from corporate safety wonks.

"It is a rule that we must back into a parking space or they will suspend us from our job," said Marion Craddock, a locomotive engineer for CSX Transportation. (He was talking about parking cars and trucks, not trains.)

"Our safety officer found that more than 90 percent of our accidents happened when the guys were backing up," said Doug Parker, who used to work for a water utility company in Virginia.

In downtown Raleigh, the Wilmington Street parking deck next to Progress Energy headquarters looks like a car dealer's lot -- with rows of cars and company trucks all facing outward.

And it looks like a 1920s photo of an old Progress Energy (then Carolina Power & Light) garage on Harrington Street, where a fleet of utility trucks parked with taillights to the wall.

"It's a safety mentality we have," Jerry Boggs, a Progress project manager, said last week after he parked his SUV the same way in the Wilmington Street deck.

"So when you're pulling out, you're not backing into traffic or into unknown conditions. A dog or a kid could run behind your car, and you might not see them."

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