Late in 2014, Chinese stunt driver Han Yue set a record for the tightest parallel parking job ever recorded. Driving a Mini Cooper, he placed his vehicle a mere 8cm (3,14 inches) from the two cars bordering the open parking bay.
Not to be outdone, stunt driver Alastair Moffatt broke this record in January 2015 by reducing the distance between cars to just 7,5cm. He was driving a Fiat 500C.
Now, as you can imagine, you don’t perform this sort of tight parking by using the traditional parallel parking method. No, these drivers race up to the parking bay at an angle, and then slide into it by pulling on the handbrake. It is quite a feat, and well worth watching. You can find videos of both record attempts online.
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t that skilled at parking a car. Parallel parking, especially, is becoming something of a lost art. We simply don’t park parallel to the road very often nowadays. Most places of business have parking areas with right-angle parking bays. The reason for the prevalence of this kind of bay is simple: it allows site planners to cram the maximum number of parking bays into an area.
But, from a safety perspective, this sort of parking bay isn’t ideal. Since we’re generally more used to angle parking these days, we might think it’s easier to deal with than a parallel parking spot, but it demands complex manoeuvring and, most problematically, it allows for very limited visibility when you have to reverse out of the bay.
Parallel parking bays are safer, since you can always see oncoming traffic when entering or leaving them. Bays of 30, 45 and 60 degrees are also better than the right-angle bays, since they are easier to navigate and provide better visibility. But they also reduce the number of bays that can be accommodated in a given area.
So, because they allow for the most effective use of space, right-angle bays are here to stay.
Sadly, as you can imagine, you can cram even more bays into an area by limiting the length and width of a bay. The smaller each bay, the more bays you can fit in. In the modern age of the SUV, this is creating problems.
A lot of parking bays are too small for our cars. If you’ve ever tried to squeeze a large SUV into a space flanked by two other large SUVs, you’ll know what I’m talking about!
In most countries, regulations dictate the minimum size of a parking bay, but they often offer a lot of leeway. The UK laws, which came up for review in 2014, set the maximum width of a bay at 2,7m and the minimum at 1,8m. Squeezing a Range Rover or Land Cruiser 200 into a 1,8m bay is quite a challenge.
In SA, bays are usually about 2,4m wide, which is similar to those in countries such as Canada and Australia, but I believe they should be bigger.
Next time you are in a parking area, have a look at the number of SUVs and double cabs with “dings” and scratches at the corners. Do the drivers need more training, or are the parking bays too small? Either way, something needs to change.
Interestingly, fear of parking is an acknowledged modern phobia, and is called insistophobia (from the Latin word for “coming to a stop”). In the age of the SUV, the number of people suffering from this condition is destined to grow.