A Driving Instructor's Blog

As I said in that discussion about parallel parking, however you look at it all it boils down to is reversing into a space behind another vehicle in a reverse “S” path. However, success, failure, and reproducibility are a direct function of the actual method used.Parallel Park stages

When I first became an instructor I tried various methods based on the ones my trainers had taught me. However, I wasn’t happy with any of them because they were so unreliable. Coming from a scientific background I wanted something that was as precise as possible, because it would then be reproducible – and reproducibility is what catches many learners out when they are trying to master this manoeuvre.

This is the method I developed as a result. Obviously, the basic premise of reversing into the target space in a reverse “S” path is extremely limited, and on the surface one method looks very similar to any other. But something must be wrong if so many of those other methods yield such variable results. This one doesn’t.

Step 1 is to drive up alongside the target vehicle, slightly ahead of it, and about ½ to ¾ metre away from it.

Step 2 is to reverse back until the back of your vehicle is level with the back of the target. The reason you do it this way instead of trying to start level to begin with is that you will need to look behind you. If you do that while your are still moving forward you could make contact with the target car.

Step 3 is to steer full lock to the left and move backwards until the car is at about 45° to the kerb. The actual angle you go for isn’t super-critical, but getting the same angle consistently each time is.

Step 4 is to straighten the wheels and reverse back in a straight line towards the kerb. Stop when your rear nearside wheel is about ½ metre away from the kerb. This is the second vital key position.

Step 5 is to steer full lock to the right and reverse back until you are parallel with the kerb. Once you are, stop and straighten your wheels.

The method is very simple. Summarising the stages, you have:

  • stop slightly ahead of the target car
  • level up the back ends
  • use full lock to turn about 45° from your original position
  • straighten the wheels and reverse back to the kerb
  • use full lock to swing back in, then straighten the wheels

The real trick is being able to get to a consistent angle each time and to judge the distance from the kerb reliably – not being able to do these which makes any method unreliable. It’s like baking a cake. Use the correct quantities of your ingredients and you get a cake at the end. Use the wrong quantities and you get a mess.

How far ahead of the target car should I stop?

It doesn’t really matter as long as the back end of your car is further forward than the back end of the target. As a rough guide when using another car, make your wing mirrors level with the front of the target car’s bonnet (or its boot if it is facing the other way). Obviously, a lorry or van is much bigger, so you’ll have to judge for yourself.

How can I tell when I’m level with the back of the other car?

Your instructor should be able to tell you when to stop in the right place. At that point, look out of the nearside rear passenger window and look where the target car’s back end appears. Use that as your reference in future.

Do I have to be exactly level with the other car?

No, not exactly. Just near enough. If  you’re much too far forwards you might clip the other car when you swing in. If you’re much too far back you’ll just finish further back than you need to be. But a bit either way shouldn’t matter.

How can I work out where 45° is?

Don’t get too hung up on the number. As long as you can get to more or less 45° – and get about the same each time – the method will work. You may find that you can judge it by eye, but a reference often helps.

Stop the car at the side of the road and have your instructor point out something – a tree, a chimney stack, a window on a house, etc. – which is at about 45° to your current position. Look at where that object is in relation to your car and head position – maybe the middle of your door mirror, the corner of the windscreen, etc. That becomes your reference in future, so when you’re ready to angle the car, check what your reference lines up with, and go back slowly until you’re pointing the car straight at it.

Do I have to be at exactly 45°?

No, but try to be reasonably close to it. You don’t want to go too far past it, that’s all. The only critical part is to make sure you get more or less the same angle each time. If your angle varies, the rest of the procedure will, too.

How do I know when I’m the right distance away from the kerb?

Get your instructor to stop you in the right place, then use your nearside door mirror to show you where the kerb is. In my car, if the door mirror is angled to show about a thumb’s width underneath the door handle before starting the manoeuvre, then the car will be the correct distance from the kerb just before you lose sight of the road tarmac while you’re doing it.

Is it important to stop the same distance away from the kerb each time?

Yes. If you go too far back you’ll hit the kerb, and if you don’t go far enough then you’ll finish wide. If your kerb distance varies, the result of the manoeuvre will vary.

Is it OK to dry steer?

Yes.

Do I need to reverse back any further once I’m next to, and parallel with, the kerb?

No. The whole point of the manoeuvre is to complete it within two of your own car lengths from the back of the target vehicle (i.e in the smallest space possible). Once you’re in, reversing back any further is pointless and could mean that you end up too far back.

If I’m too far back, can I drive forwards to correct it?

Remember that in the real world there will be another car behind you. You’re only as good as the furthest distance back you travel. The examiner will be assessing you on that farthest position, not the closest. If you can follow this method consistently you won’t be too far back and there will be nothing to correct.

You haven’t mentioned observations

You need to be aware of other road users, just like with all the other manoeuvres, and the examiner will be watching to make sure you’re looking for them. As a rough guide, look all around before each stage of the procedure at the very least, and check as necessary while you are moving.

Doesn’t being so precise over angles and distances make this method too complicated?

As I said previously, other methods are extremely unreliable and you only get one chance to get it right on your driving test. The more precise you are with your method, the more reproducible it will be.

When you strip away the details, everyone parallel parks in the same way – a backwards ‘S’ (in the UK) into a gap. My method just makes sure the ‘S’ is the same size and shape each time for those who are doing this at the start of their driving lifetimes. The actual numbers don’t matter too much, but being consistent with positions and general angles does.

Will I fail my test if I can’t parallel park?

Yes – if the examiner asks you to do it, and you can’t. The same applies to all the manoeuvres you might be asked to do.

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