Stopping & Parking Responsibly
Picking the right parking spot

Parking for Dummies: Choosing a Safe Legal Parking Spot

Updated Sept. 30, 2019

Traffic laws do not only maintain order while you are driving, they also govern how, where and when you may park your vehicle. Illegal or irresponsible parking can be just as disruptive and hazardous as bad driving! If you do not park properly, your vehicle may roll into moving traffic or pose a hazard to other drivers by obstructing important parts of the roadway.

Parking rules differ quite a bit around the United States and even from city to city within the same state. The general safety guidelines outlined in this section apply everywhere, though you should also check your state’s own driver handbook for location-specific information which may not be included here.

Choosing a safe parking spot

Looking for a parking spot and parking your vehicle can be dangerous. Like turning or changing lanes, it often involves complex maneuvers, avoiding obstacles and interacting with other road users. You must identify a safe spot, move to the correct part of the road, communicate your intention to park and position your vehicle in a way that does not present a hazard to other drivers or pedestrians – there is a lot to think about!

Where can you legally park?

Motorists may only park in public parking lots, on private driveways or along the curb of certain roadways. Even though it is permitted in theory, parking along many stretches of curb is restricted or prohibited – particularly in busy urban or residential areas. Check out the next article in this section for more information on restricted and prohibited parking.

Choosing a space in a parking lot

Selecting a space in a parking lot is relatively straight-forward, as each space is marked with painted lines and arranged to allow drivers a safe space to maneuver. To maximize the space around your vehicle and those adjacent to you, you must always center your car completely within the marked parking space and park with the wheels straight. Learn the best way to maneuver in and out of marked parking spaces, in our “Driving Maneuvers” section.

Parking in a Marked Parking SpotAlways center your vehicle in a marked parking space to create even spacing between cars and avoid blocking other drivers.

Parking on the side of the road

When parking next to the curb on a road, look out for signs and road markings indicating how you should position your vehicle. Unless otherwise stated, drivers should park parallel to the curb and no further than 18 inches away from it. This should prevent any part of your vehicle posing a hazard to nearby traffic.

How to choose a parking spot

Safety should be your top priority when choosing a parking spot, just as it is in all other driving situations. Beyond this, you should aim to choose a spot that is convenient and will keep your vehicle as safe as possible while you are away. The “perfect” parking space would have these qualities:

  1. 1

    Close to the exit (when parking in a lot)

  2. 2

    Easy to maneuver in to and out of

  3. 3

    In a well-lit area

  4. 4

    Close to an easily recognizable landmark (i.e. in front of a memorable store or next to a prominent road sign)

  5. 5

    At a safe distance from other parked vehicles (so that the doors of adjacent vehicles can be opened fully)

  6. 6

    In an open space free from obstacles that may restrict your view as you leave

Unfortunately, perfect parking spaces are a rarity! Try to tick as many of these boxes as possible when choosing a parking space, with safety being your number-one priority. Always begin searching for a parking space in advance of your destination, as it will give you a better chance of finding an appropriate spot.

Leaving your vehicle

Whenever you are planning to leave your vehicle – even for a moment – you must park it properly. This means shutting off the engine, locking the ignition, removing the key and engaging your parking brake. Never leave your vehicle without following these steps, as it will not be secure and could roll away or be stolen.

Always exercise caution when getting out of your car. Look over your shoulder and scan around the vehicle to check for traffic, pedestrians and other hazards before opening your door. This is especially important when you are parked next to a curb and run the risk of opening your door into traffic. Never rely exclusively on your mirrors to determine whether it is safe to leave your vehicle, as you could open the door into the path of a cyclist or another less-visible road user.

Exiting a parking space safely

Unless you have reversed into a perpendicular parking space, leaving the space will likely require backing up. Always make sure that the space behind your vehicle is clear by checking your mirrors AND looking over your shoulder before reversing out of a parking spot, as pedestrians may be passing by.

When backing up out of a driveway or a marked space in a parking lot, it is best to look over your shoulder for a few seconds rather than glancing briefly. This will give children, animals and shorter pedestrians who may be obscured by the rear-end of the vehicle enough time to pass safely.

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