How to parallel park and other parking safety tips
Last updated: January 1
Many people might agree that they struggle with parallel parking, which means a vehicle is parked parallel to a traffic lane and between other cars. It takes some practice to get it right, so if you've never attempted to park this way, you may experience some anxiety when it's the only available parking option at your destination. James Solomon, Director of Defensive Driving Program Development and Training at the National Safety Council, and an experienced driving instructor, offers some "how to" advice and safety tips for parallel parking.
Parallel parking steps
Whether you're just learning how to parallel park or consider yourself a seasoned pro, the following tips from Solomon may help ensure you're following the proper technique and safety measures. Keep in mind that, while some one-way streets may have parallel parking spaces on both sides of the road, these steps are a guide to parallel parking on the right-hand side only.
If you're a beginner, Solomon recommends locating a parking space on a low-traffic street that is at least 4 to 6 feet longer than your vehicle. You should also visually inspect the parking space for any debris, such as trash or broken glass, so you can help avoid potential damage to your car's tires, says Solomon. And, while you're learning, you may want to practice parallel parking behind one car at first (rather than between two cars) to help minimize the risk of striking another object.
Step 1. Line up your vehicle
After you've located a parking space, use your right-hand turn signal to alert other drivers that you're about to park. Solomon says lining up the rear bumper of your car to the rear bumper of the vehicle that will be parked in front of you is key. You should also allow about 3 feet of distance between the passenger side of your vehicle and the driver's side of the car next to you. Once your vehicle is properly lined up, shift the vehicle to reverse and use your car's mirrors to verify there is no oncoming traffic. Then, look over your right shoulder. Stretch your right arm over the back of your car's passenger seat to help turn your body so you have better visibility as you prepare to reverse, says Solomon.
Step 2. Turn the wheel
Start with your left hand on the top center of your steering wheel, and turn the wheel tightly to the right. It's important not to turn your wheel too far, says Solomon — if you can't turn the wheel any further to the right, then you've gone too far. He recommends being a half-turn away from the steering wheel's maximum rotation.
Step 3. Begin reversing
Slowly ease your foot off the brake pedal, with the wheel still turned, and let your vehicle begin entering the parking space. If you need to use the car's accelerator to get your car moving, use only very light pressure on the gas. When your right rear bumper is halfway into the parking space at a 45-degree angle, stop the vehicle, says Solomon.
Step 4. Straighten the wheel and reverse again
With your vehicle at a stop, straighten out your steering wheel. Slowly ease off the brake again, and let your vehicle reverse into the space until your car's front right bumper has cleared the left rear bumper of the vehicle in front of you. Solomon recommends stopping again at this point. If your rear tire has hit the curb, it may be difficult to correct the alignment of your vehicle — Solomon recommends starting over when it's clear to pull out of the parking space.
Step 5. Turn the wheel and finish reversing
Next, turn your steering wheel to the left using the same technique from Step 2. Ease your foot off the car's brake pedal to complete reversing into the space. Your vehicle should now be entirely in the parking space.
Step 6. Straighten out your car
Center your vehicle between the cars in front of and behind you, and ensure your vehicle is 6 to 12 inches away from the curb, suggests Solomon. This may make it easier for vehicles to exit and enter the parking spaces and, if it's raining, allow water to move past your vehicle and into sewer drains. Otherwise, water may hit your vehicle's tires and divert it to the road, potentially causing puddling and water hazards on the road for other drivers. If your parking space is marked, you should always park your car between the marked lines, adds Solomon.
Step 7. Exit your vehicle
Use caution when exiting your vehicle and check for hazards prior to opening your car door. Solomon suggests using what he calls the "cross-body-reach method" by taking off your seat belt, checking your car's mirrors for other vehicles and pedestrians, and then reaching over your body with your right arm to open the door. Solomon says opening the door with your right arm turns your body in a way that may allow you to see things that were not visible in the mirrors. You may also want to ask your passengers to use the same method, as bicyclists or pedestrians on the passenger side may be close to vehicles parked on the street.
Parking on a hill
If you parallel park your vehicle on a hill, you should take a few extra safety precautions. Here are some additional tips from Solomon to keep in mind:
- Uphill parking: After parking your vehicle, turn the car's wheels so they're pointed away from the curb. That way, if the unexpected happens and your vehicle rolls backwards, the back of your tires will hit the curb. This may help stop the vehicle from rolling any further.
- Downhill parking: After parking your vehicle, turn your car's wheels so they're pointed toward the curb. If your vehicle rolls forward, the front tire would hopefully strike the curb and stop the vehicle.
Remember that some streets may not have a curb. In this case, Solomon says you should still point your vehicle's tires accordingly, as if there were a curb. He also recommends that drivers activate the parking brake when the vehicle is parked, especially in an uphill or downhill parking situation.
Exiting a parallel parking space
When it's time to exit your parking space, Solomon recommends assessing how much space is between your car and the cars in front of or behind you first. Remember, other cars could have exited and entered those spaces while you were away — potentially leaving you less room than you had before. Watch for bicyclists, motorcycles and pedestrians while getting into your vehicle, and use your left-hand turn signal when preparing to exit to alert other vehicles that you'll be entering the traffic lane.
Look over your right shoulder for visibility and reverse to the end of your parking space. Then, shift your car to drive, turn your steering wheel to the left and begin to enter the traffic lane when it's clear. Depending on how much room you have, you may be able to completely exit the space from this point. If not, you'll need to stop and put your car in reverse, turn the wheel to the right and slowly back up. Repeat these steps until you're able to clear the vehicle in front of you and exit the parking space.
Parallel parking is an important technique to learn, especially if you live in or frequent areas where other parking options are scarce. By taking some time to practice these steps, you may be able to become more confident in your parking abilities.