You're Parking Wrong
Why it's almost always better to back into a space than pull into it head-on.
There are myriad moments in everyday life when some common behavior can be performed in one of two ways, thus cleaving the world into two bitterly feuding camps, capable of using strongly held convictions, pseudo-scientific explanations, and rough psychological profiling to denigrate or dismiss the other side. The most notorious instance: The great "under" or "over"toilet paper roll debate.
On my blog, I was recently reminded of one of these almost-invisible, yet strangely polarizing, social behaviors, this time from the world of traffic. A reader named Jeff wanted to know:
"What makes some people back into parking spaces rather than pull straight in? Is this a regional thing (in the south)? I've always thought that it takes much longer to back into the space and pull straight out than it takes to pull straight in and back out of the space."
Jeff's note struck a chord. This was something I too had casually noticed in the large parking lots of airports and shopping malls: Amid a long row of vehicular rear-ends, I'd spot a protuberant, defiant face. Who was this renegade? Did he have some secret agenda? Was it some kind of macho display, or some strategy for emergency preparedness? Had I encountered a practitioner of "tactical parking"? I've even flirted with the technique: Pulling into an empty parking space and then—seeing that the space beyond was also free, and that there was no intervening "wheel stop"—moving forward, and settling in with a vaguely illicit thrill. The practice has even been culturally beatified through its own Internet satire: "Fancy Parking." ("Have you ever walked through a parking lot and gazed at how certain cars are parked. Maybe you never knew how to describe it").
Still, I was unprepared for the response to Jeff's query. The rapid barrage of comments about it betrayed not only an easy familiarity with the phenomenon, but a plurality of readers arguing in favor of "back-in, head-out" parking, as it is known in the trade.
The logic, presented by many readers, is breathtakingly clear and simple. To quote one:
Tom Vanderbilt is author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, now available in paperback. He is contributing editor to Artforum, Print, and I.D.; contributing writer to Design Observer; and has written for many publications, including Wired, the Wilson Quarterly, the New York Times Magazine, and the London Review of Books. He blogs at howwedrive.com and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tomvanderbilt.
Photograph of parked cars by Istockphoto/Thinkstock.