Parallel parking becoming a lost art

My mother took her driver’s test in 1952. She had to demonstrate her ability to drive, in part, by performing a parallel park. She never parallel parked again for the next 50 years.

In Canada, where there is more space per person than most all other countries in the world, the parallel park is not a necessity. There are all sorts of alternative methods of parking available to drivers in their everyday busy lives. People can angle park, go to the mall and choose any other form of parking.

Despite this reality, parallel parking remains a fixture on most driving tests. Safe backing manoeuvres are best demonstrated in the must-do kind of driving situations, such as straight-line backing, a two- or three-point turn, all of which are currently included on most driving tests.

The parallel park is only on the driver’s test because of historical perspective. Most driving-test templates used in Canada were drawn from European countries and the British Isles, where space was then and is now even more at a premium. The ability to parallel park was a necessity in the “old country.” It was decided by several bureaucrats in Canada that parallel parking should be included on the driving test in the “colonies.” This ridiculous assertion has lived on ever since. So much for history!

I like to parallel park. It protects my car doors from the inevitable dings of less-responsible drivers. It is easier to see clearly when leaving the parking space. Vandalism and theft is less likely when the vehicle is not hidden by adjacent vehicles.

Here are some tips and a general plan to execute the perfect parallel park. The approach to the parking spot should be preceded by a right signal and shoulder check, to insure no cyclists are attempting a right-side pass. The driver doing the park should be at least a car door length from the adjacent vehicle. This should provide enough space, if the driver door suddenly opens (if the door does get hit as you pull beside the car, it is a violation and an at-fault action of the driver who opened the door).

Pull far enough ahead to have your vehicle overhang the adjacent vehicle’s rear bumper by one third the length of your own vehicle. It is best to not line up the back bumpers of the two vehicles, in order to clear the forward car on the pullback into the parking space. Before backing, the driver must do a 360-degree check around the vehicle.

It is a good idea to toot the horn twice before backing. The driver should turn the wheels right, all the way and back, looking backward the entire time the vehicle is moving in reverse. There are several marker points that can be used to gain a proper angle when stopping halfway through the backing manoeuvres. Some will look to estimate a 45-degree angle for a mid-angle stop.

There are two better markers to use when doing the parallel park. One is to check the lineup of the rear left taillight with the left headlight of the vehicle behind your car or truck. The other method is to allow the front right corner of your vehicle to clear the left rear bumper of the vehicle beside you, before steering the wheel all the way left, and backing into the parking space. The cardinal sin of being too far from the curb can be avoided by taking a slightly greater angle and tapping the curb. Turning all the way right and moving forward will complete the park.

To leave a parallel park, simply reverse the entire process. The driver doing the parallel park has the right of way throughout the process. Remember, practice makes perfect.

Steve Wallace is a longtime teacher and owner of the Wallace Driving School in Victoria.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist, Special to Times Colonist