There’s a reason that parallel parking can be daunting. Whether you’re a seasoned driver with thousands of kilometres under your belt, or a sweaty-palmed learner facing your driving test, it is a difficult manoeuvre to pull off correctly, especially in urban environments when the queue of drivers behind you and proximity to parked cars can make for a nerve-wracking experience.
Yet knowing how to safely and correctly park is essential. Not only is it routinely tested in driving tests, it’s actually a legal requirement for drivers; each state has road rules specific to parallel parking, and failure to comply may result in demerit or penalty points or fines.
Each state has road rules specific to parallel parking, and failure to comply may result in demerit or penalty points or fines.
In years to come, self-parking cars will greatly assist in parking woes. David McCowen, of drive.com.au, is excited about what self-parking cars will mean for the average driver, saying: “Self-parking systems represent a significant breakthrough in the race to offer a self-driving car as they take the hassle out of one of motoring’s great chores.” But until these technologies become ubiquitous, you’ll need to know how to park your vehicle yourself.
Reverse parking is just part of life, but it’s also one of the largest contributors to motor vehicle insurance claims, according to a report published by the Department of Housing and Public Works.
Such damage can be incurred by hitting another vehicle, stationary object, building, or most distressingly, a person or animal. But reverse parking doesn’t have to be intimidating. Once mastered, it is as straightforward a driving manoeuvre as any other. Here, we’ll cover the basics of reverse parking, and offer tips to make you calm and confident behind the wheel, even when you’re going backwards.
Parallel parking vs. reverse parking
You may be thinking: “there’s a difference?” You are not alone! The two forms of parking are actually very similar. Reverse parking specifically refers to the car’s movement — that is, a reverse park is when you are using the reverse gear to park.
You may be thinking: “there’s a difference?” You are not alone!
Parallel parking is parking so that your parked car is aligned with the road. The two are frequently conflated because drivers use the reverse technique to parallel park. Distinct from both reverse parking and parallel parking is angle parking, which is when vehicles are parked on a specified angle to the curb.
How to parallel park
Here’s Geared’s step-by-step guide2:
Find a space that you can safely get your car into.
Slow down, indicate left, check your left blind spot and pull up alongside the car you are parking behind.
When you pull up alongside the car you are parking behind, make sure there is about one meter between your car and the car next to you.
Position the car so your car’s left passenger side mirror is in line with the driver side mirror of the car next to you.
Shift your car into reverse gear, check all mirrors and blind spots.
Turn the steering wheel anti-clockwise, and slowly begin to reverse your car. Continue to check the left passenger side mirror and the front left corner of your car while you are reversing to ensure you keep a safe distance between your car and the car in front.
Continue reversing at an angle until your rear tyre (facing the kerb) is nearly as close as required to the kerb (this is roughly 30cm). If your tyre hits the kerb, this means you’ve gone too far.
Put the car back into drive and move forward a few feet and try again. Also, the rear end of your car should be around 30cm away from the front of the car behind you.
As you finish reversing in, turn your steering wheel clockwise to straighten your front wheels.
Finally, inch forward (making sure your front wheels are straight) to complete the parallel park.
First of all, assess if the car space you want is the right size for your car. You want a space to be at least 1.5 times the length of your car. If the space looks too small, assume it is.
When you’ve confirmed the space is big enough, pull up beside the car in front of your space so the side mirror on your passenger side is parallel with the front of that car. Your car needs to be at least a half metre away from the parked car. (A benchmark to determine this — could your passenger open his door without hitting that car? If the answer is yes, you’re good to go.)
Check carefully for pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles, and when the coast is clear, start to reverse very slowly. The car should be going no faster than a slow walk. Some drivers swear by looking in their side mirrors to reverse, whereas others always look through the rear windscreen and side windows.
Check carefully for pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles, and when the coast is clear, start to reverse very slowly
There is no one “right” way to do this, but you’re ultimately striving for accuracy, control and awareness of your surroundings. If you’re a beginner, it’s probably best to look through the rear windscreen and windows, as mirrors can make objects appear closer than they actually are, which makes them tricky to use if you’re not used to doing so.
If using the rear windscreen method, when you can see the end of the parked car in front of your space through your rear passenger window, it means you’re past that car and can start to turn your own vehicle into the space. Looking through the rear windscreen, turn your steering wheel in one complete rotation in the direction of your space as you continue slowly reversing.
As you progress, when you see your passenger side mirror align with the rear corner of the car in front, turn your steering wheel in one full rotation in the opposite direction to straighten your car’s wheels. Then, you can use the passenger side mirror to help you. When you see the curb disappear from view, turn the steering wheel in another full rotation in that same direction.
Keep reversing until the curb appears in the passenger side mirror again, and when your car is parallel with the curb (or is aligned with the car in front), turn your steering wheel all the way around in the original direction to straighten your wheels. If you’re too close or far away from the car in front, move forward or back until you are in the centre of the spot. You want there to be a 30cm gap in front of and behind your own vehicle. And there you are — parallel parked!
How to Angle Park
This kind of parking is actually easier than parallel parking. Here’s how to do it.
Indicate to the traffic behind that you’re intending to reverse, and then check carefully for pedestrians, cyclists, oncoming vehicles or any other obstructions. When you’re sure it’s safe to proceed, drive forward past the space as you would when parallel parking, then back in slowly. Again, you’re aiming for a speed no faster than a slow walk.
There are many benefits to this kind of parking: if you’re loading your car’s boot, you can do so while not standing on the street, and you’re already facing the traffic when pulling out and back onto the road, making it easier to see cyclists and other vehicles. Angled parking is also efficient for street layouts.
Practice, practice, practice! The more you parallel or angle park, the more comfortable you will become. Good places to practice are empty car parks, quiet suburban streets and in the comfort of your own driveway (though be extra careful of small children).
Know your car. Has it got a big boot? Prominent bumpers? Is it compact and small, or long and wide? Having keen awareness of the size of your vehicle will help you assess if a parking space is big enough, and know when you are getting too close to the cars bordering your own space.
Don’t be afraid to start again if you don’t get the angle right the first time! Just pull out of the space, go back to the beginning and try again. Also, don’t be nervous about holding up the cars behind you. It is always better to calmly take your time than to rush and end up clipping someone else’s car or mounting the curb!
Don’t be afraid to start again if you don’t get the angle right the first time!
Be aware of common tricky spots for reverse parking, or reversing your vehicle. Car parks are one such hotspot for accidents — the concrete pylons, density of cars, scattered trolleys, random pedestrians and low lighting can make for a challenging situation. Another hotspot is driveways. In Australia, most incidents in which toddlers are hit by cars occur in home driveways. Reversing in both instances calls for heightened observation of your surroundings, extra care, and driving extremely slowly.
The cardinal rule: always check that it’s safe to proceed before you do so, and when you do, go slowly and with care.