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 45° to the kerb. You can call it the half-past-one position, the “magic angle”, or anything else that takes your fancy – just go back until the car has turned to about 45°. This is one of the two vital keys to reproducibility.

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, 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 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 45° and to judge the distance from the kerb reliably – it is not being able to do these which makes other methods so unreliable.

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, make your wing mirrors level with the front of the target car’s bonnet (or its boot if it is facing the other way). You may need to go further if the target car is something small, like a Ford Ka.

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 (it is usually just inside the main window, though it will vary from car to car).

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

No, not exactly. However, if you’re too far forwards you might swing the front of your car into the back of the target car, so be careful. Being too far back just means you will finish further back.

How can I work out where 45° is?

You may find that you can judge this by eye. However, one way of being absolutely certain of getting the same angle every time is to work out a reference point that you can use. Here’s one way.

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 45° to your current position. Now, rest your head against the right corner of the head restraint or the offside central door pillar and trace a line through the middle of whatever it is with your finger straight down to the ground. Where this traced line intersects with the offside wing mirror (or any other part of the car) is your new reference position for 45°.

All you have to do now once you’ve levelled the back ends is to put your head back into the same fixed position as before, and trace a line upwards from your new reference position. Whatever is on that line – again, a tree, a chimney, or anything else – is at 45° to your current position. Just one word of caution: don’t pick something that is very close to you – like cars parked on the opposite side of the road. The further away it is, the better. All you have to do now is reverse back with full left lock until you are looking straight at your selected object directly above the steering wheel.

Do I have to be at exactly 45°?

No, but try to be as close as possible to it. The further past 45° you go, the closer you’ll end up to the kerb and the nearer to the target car your front end will be as you swing back in. Likewise, the further you are before 45°, the further out and behind you’ll finish. In reality, you have quite a lot of leeway, but as I said at the start the whole point of this method is to be accurate and reproducible, and adding variation means it won’t be as reproducible as it should be.

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

As above, get your instructor to stop you in the right place. Then, angle your nearside wing mirror downwards until you can see a small triangle of road just in front of the kerb (as small as possible). Now look where the door handle is in the mirror – you can set the mirror to this position before you start the manoeuvre in future, and then reverse backwards until you can see the same small section of the road.

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. You have about ½ metre to play with but you don’t want to waste that needlessly. Try to do the whole manoeuvre as close to the same each time as you possibly can.

Is it OK to dry steer?

Yes. You may need to adjust how close to the kerb you get if you choose to dry steer.

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. What would you rather do? Go for a perceived slightly easier method that has a 50:50 chance of success, or a perceived slightly more difficult one which is virtually guaranteed to work?

In fact, this method is no more complicated than any other apart from the word “degrees” and the number “45” (and don’t forget that many driving instructors fall into the category of being confused by those sorts of things). Stick with phrases like “the magic angle” or “half past one position” to people who have difficulties with degrees and explain how to identify it and there’s no problem. Don’t get hung up on being at precisely 45° every time, either – it’s like shooting at a target: you need to know where the bull’s-eye is, and that you should aim for it, but if you hit anywhere in the scoring area it’s still satisfactory. In other words, for this method you just learn where the ideal angle is and get close to it each time.

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

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

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