February 8, 2016

Damage while parked, parking and backing account for more than 25 per cent of reported fleet collisions. A better understanding of the underlying psychology that drives parking lot behaviour can go a long way in reducing incident frequency.

Your drivers might not be aware of it, but when they are looking for a spot in a parking lot they are tapping into some very primal behaviour. According to the growing field of driver psychology it is not laziness that prompts drivers to waste time and fuel looking for an ideal spot. Rather, it is to experience a victory or parking lot triumph and has its roots in the human instinct to stake out and defend territory. Any one who has instinctively slowed down their departure from a parking space when another vehicle is waiting to use it or has impatiently cursed a laggard for not leaving their space quickly enough has demonstrated this aspect of human nature.

Andrew Velkey, a psychology professor at Christopher Newport University in Virginia has studied “parking lot behaviour” extensively and has observed two other distinct parking behaviours emerge: “cycling” and “pick a row, closest space”. What Velkey determined from his studies was that individuals who “cycled” or trolled through a parking lot waiting for a spot close to the entrance to come free were, on average, no closer to it or got to it faster than the group who simply took the first spot they saw.

Here’s how your drivers can benefit by being aware of their own and other drivers’ deep-rooted behaviour. Parking further away from the entrance and the crowd provides a number of advantages. First, you are more likely to find a spot to “pull-through” to park in, the method favoured by driver training programs. This means you can pull out with a much clearer view of oncoming drivers and decrease your chances of being involved in a collision. If you can’t pull-through to a spot, backing in is the next best choice. Drive by the spot you want to back in to checking to ensure it is clear. Put on the four way flashers and back in. By doing this in a row further away from the entrance you have a better chance of accomplishing this without feeling pressured by other drivers. Second, parking away from other cars can also reduce the chance of your vehicle being scraped, dinged or scratched. Finally, the extra walking required is a great way to get a bit more exercise throughout the day and creates an opportunity to get centered and focused before going in to a meeting, sales or service call.

For every province except Ontario, the provincial Highway Traffic Act (HTA) governs parking lots. Even in Ontario, some large shopping centres have asked local municipalities to classify the centre’s main roads as highways and thus be covered under the HTA. Regardless of what rules have the force of law behind them, the following are the generally accepted rules of the parking lot.

A driver in a thoroughfare lane has the right of way over a driver in a feeder lane. A thoroughfare is the lane in a parking lot that directly connects to the road, street, or highway. A feeder lane is any other lane in a parking lot that doesn’t exit to a road. These feeder lanes often lead to the thoroughfare lane. If you find yourself in a feeder lane turning into a lane that connects to the parking lot exit, you must wait for any traffic in that lane to pass prior to making your turn.

If you open the door of your car and someone else hits it, you are at fault. If you are opening your car door to exit, check to ensure that there is no nearby traffic. This is an easily avoidable collision. By opening your door without looking for traffic, you are automatically at fault and in potential danger.

If you hit a legally parked car while driving, you are automatically at fault. Regardless of the situation, if you hit a legally parked vehicle then you are at fault. However, if that car is not parked legally then that driver may instead be at fault. Gather as much evidence (photos, witnesses) as possible to support your case.

You follow all signs in the parking lot. The signs are there for a reason. If you get in an accident because you didn’t follow the directions of a traffic sign (or police officer) then you are automatically at fault.

If you are pulling out of a parking space, you MUST yield to any other oncoming vehicles. You must make sure there is no traffic before pulling out of your parking spot. It is your responsibility to look and ensure the coast is clear before pulling out of a parking space.

So the next time your drivers find themselves in a parking lot, remind them to take a breath and put these suggestions to work. Then as they enjoy an energizing walk to the entrance of the building, they can congratulate themselves on their enlightened response to others’ primal instincts.

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