Why do People Back into Parking Spaces?

OK, since I am car-blogging tonight, I will tackle another critical and substantive automotive topic.  Why do some people back into parking spaces?  And further, why are a large percentage of the people who back into spaces driving pickup trucks?  Here I am talking about backing into perpendicular spaces, like at the mall, not parallel parking.  Also, I am not talking about parking at a busy sporting event, where I often back in so that I can more easily pull forward into the inevitable post-gram traffic.

Backing up is at least 10 times harder than going forward.  Just try to drive a straight line backward - you will probably look like someone who is DWI. 

So lets think about parking.  When you are pulling in, you are generally going from a wide area to a very narrow area.  When you are pulling out, you are conversely going from a narrow area to a wide area.  If you did both of these forward, just to make things apples and apples, I think most people would agree that pulling in to the space is much harder than driving out.  So why do people do the harder move (pulling in) the harder way (backing up)? 

I have only had two people even try to give me an explanation for this.  The first was that they had read that most parking accidents happen pulling out of spaces, which is probably true.  But this is sloppy analysis.  I would argue that most accidents happen pulling out because people are backing up.  I would restate this stat as most parking accidents happen when people are backing up.  If everyone backed into spaces, most parking accidents would probably occur pulling in.  The second person told me that "this is how his dad always did it".  That explanation I buy.  I have found a lot of small habits like this that people stick by all their life stem from the way one of their parents taught them.

The only other advantage I can come up with is that backing in / pulling forward out might be safer in very busy lots where pedestrians and cars are constantly passing across the space and there is some danger of backing into them pulling out.  This may be, though I still see people laboriously backing up into narrow spaces at my office, where there is zero traffic in the parking lot.  And none of this explains why pickup trucks do it so much more often than sedans.  I would think that pickups would especially want to head in , since this leaves the bed accessible.



In the picture below, note the one car that is backed in along the line of perpendicular spaces at the bottom - a pickup!

Update #2: LOL - getting more comments on my parking lot observation than my post that questioned why drugs and prostitution were illegal.  I guess I may be finding my niche in the blogosphere.  Parking blogging.  Anyway, thanks to all the backer-uppers out there for the comments.  I have come to the conclusion that maybe I am just a bad driver in reverse.  If I tried to back into a space between two cars, I would probably scratch a car a week.  I do understand that at least that does not hurt anyone, while backing out can indeed hurt someone, particularly small hard-to-see kids.  (By the way, I will think the best of my readers and not assume they are attracted by one other benefit of backing in -- that if you back in and hit a car, it is likely unoccupied and you can make a run for it; if you hit a car backing out, it will be occupied and you are busted).


  1. Gene Hoffman:

    Backing in has a couple of benefits, but neither of them explain the pick up angle.

    1. When the spot you want has had a person who doesn't understand how to park in the middle of their space head in and has over compensated to the right. In this case you can back in to the middle and exit your car without doing the "door squeeze." This sadly happens at my office more than I care to admit.

    2. There is a real safety benefit. When backing into a space, the odds that there is a pedestrian or car in the space are much lower than the odds that when backing out there will be a pedestrian or car in the aisleway. Your situational awareness is just better when you pull in than when you first get into your auto.

  2. Tom Hanna:

    It's harder to see oncoming traffic when backing out than when moving out forward. When backing into a space, you don't have to look left and right for someone about to tear the tail end off your car because you are backing into a closed in space not backing into traffic.

  3. Jojo:

    Bingo. If you make a mistake backing in, it's just a matter of readjustment or, at worst, you scratch the surrounding vehicle. If you make a mistake backing out, you could seriously hurt somebody.

  4. markm:

    With right-angle parking, it's often possible to back into a space so tight that you couldn't get into it forwards. That is, unless the lane between the parking spaces is pretty wide, much of your right-angle turn has to be completed when one end of the car is started into the parking space. Going forwards, your front end has to swing around far enough to straighten your car out without hitting the cars on either side. Backing in, the front end swing is all out where there's plenty of space. You've got to be damned careful of both the back corners of your car and where your side is sliding along near the outer corner of the other car, but they don't move as far to the side. I think it's pickup drivers who are most likely to have to work with such a tight squeeze because pickups average larger than cars.

    My depth perception isn't so good, so I'll generally pass on parking in a spot tight enough for that to matter. My Dakota 4x4 is too old to worry a whole lot about another dent, but I'd rather walk further than have to deal with scraping someone else's fender. But there are other reasons for backing into parking spots:

    1) You've got time to slowly back in before you go into work (or wherever) and you want to ensure a fast getaway afterwards. Is there some reason that people that think this way prefer pickup trucks?

    2) A pickup truck without a capper (the add-on top over the pickup box) gives you a good 360 view. (The box gets filled with rain or snow pretty often, so I generally don't drive this way unless I'm going to be picking up firewood or large furniture.) Now backing into a parking space is quite easy. Backing out of a parking space is often not quite that easy, because you've got to keep rotating your head over 180 degrees to see if traffic is coming from either direction. Coming out forwards, it's never too hard keeping track of traffic.

    With a capper it's somewhat different. You're nearly blind behind. So I'll go in forwards and basically depend on people staying out of my way as I very slowly back out. Some people have to ability to look at more distant objects and figure out how they are located with regards to the cars they can't see right alongside, so they can back in even with the capper.

    3) (Only in snow country): With a rear-wheel drive vehicle (and when I learned to drive 4x4's were rare and front wheel drive almost non-existent), you get better traction going forwards. If you can back into an icy or snowy space, you can certainly get out if no more snow falls, and probably even through several inches of more snow falls. If you go in forwards, you're often going to be asking for help to push your car out. So back when a 64 Pontiac Bonneville was my pride and joy, I got into the habit of backing into spaces during the winter and kept it through the summer. It's different with front-wheel drives, of course, and with my Dakota I'll just reach for the 4WD lever if the rear wheels start spinning. I think the only rear wheel drives still manufactured are the Ford Crown Victoria (mostly cop cars are CV's now) and pickups. Also, there are still 4x4's that require backing up or something to shift from 4WD to 2WD and can be damaged by staying in 4WD where the road has been cleared, so I'd expect those drivers to try to park so they can get out in 2WD.

    4) At home, I'll definitely park so I can drive straight out when I have to get to work in the morning. If there's a foot of fresh snow, and a 3 foot drift across the end of the driveway, no problem. The Dakota will crash through it going straight forwards, but maybe not if I've got to back it around and then come forward. A more frequently occurring reason is weather such that the exhaust from a cold engine collects in a big ball of fog around the rear of the vehicle. If I'm pointed out, no problem. If I have to back into that ball of vapor, then I'm really blind.

  5. Wilky:

    AS some one who always backs in, an this is redundent, bit its a safety thing with me. First, you are already in "driving mode" and much more aware. Second, as you drive past, you get a good view of the space your backing in to. Third, while you may park between two Miata's, when you leave you may be parked between two vans and your visual is not only further from the open area but also over your shoulder or with the use of mirrors that have blind spots.

  6. tom sherman:

    "1) You've got time to slowly back in before you go into work (or wherever) and you want to ensure a fast getaway afterwards. Is there some reason that people that think this way prefer pickup trucks?"

    Hahaha. True! I don't know why they'd like pickups, though!

  7. Tom Bowler:

    When it come to backing into a parking space, the easiest car I ever drove was my folks 1960 Chevy. Talk about visibility! 360 degrees of glass and all four corners of the car in plain sight! Now I drive a 2001 Chrysler Sebring. What a pain! Visibility is terrible. For that reason I've taken to backing into parking places when I can. I don't want to run over some vertically challenged soul when I'm backing out of a parking space in a super market parking lot. One way or another you're going to have to drive the car backwards.

  8. Sergio:

    A couple more reasons:
    1. I drive an 11-year-old vehicle and often park at the airport. In case my battery dies, or the car won't start, it's easier to get a "jump" with the front end facing out.
    2. It's easier to back in a wide vehicle (pickup?) such as my van using the mirrors to see exactly where the cars are on either side of you. if you have problems with depth perception, this could help.

    There are a few of the reasons why I back into many parking places. Plus the safety of pulling out forward.

  9. Phillip Renouf:

    The reason you see a lot of pickups back into a parking space is that often a pickup (especially one with 4 doors and a fullsized bed) are much longer than most other vehicles. If they pull in forwards a lot of the back end will stick out much further than the other vehicles around it. To try and avoid that happening a pickup will back into a parking space where no other vehicles are on the other side (in your picture there is only grass behind the pickup). That lets the pickup backup far enough so the back end of the bed is over the grass and the front end of the truck lines up with the other vehicles.

    Obviously that doesn't do much if there are other cars parking behind the truck, but I guess people just get into the habit.


  10. Craig:

    I once worked as a valet, and we backed in per company policy, probably because when it was time to bring cars down, we wanted to do it fast. I have continued this habit when driving my own car. However, I have a friend who always tells me that he doesn't back in because if someone hits your car, a rear-end crash is cheaper to fix than a front-end crash.

  11. Dana Leasman:

    What bugs me about people who either back in, or do the "pull through" (when people pull through one space to park in the one in the next row, facing the wrong way) in a parking lot is that they just dart out in front of you without the warning that would be given off by backup lights.

    I love those times when I am pulling into a parking space at my local grocery store when someone is attempting the pull though and we end up head to head... I simply mouth the words, "back the f*** up!"

    Fortunately, more and more parking garages now have signs saying, "do backing in, violators will be towed at owners expense."

    I still believe the primary reason that people back in is simply that it makes them feel better about their car, making them feel better about themselves. Can't they just pull in forward, and take pills for their shortcomings?

  12. Anthony Goldman:

    Please provide instructions on how to back a car into a perpendicular and parallel parking spaces.

  13. kpm:

    After driving enough times with my boss who, annoyingly, backs into spaces, I came to this site hoping to find some justification for this odd behavior. Clearly, there is none. Cut the crap and park like the rest of us, will you?

  14. Adam:

    I just got a RWD car (its a little sports car) and the point about the snow traction was really good.

    However, my car lacks power steering, so backing up becomes a major pain in the ass (you have to do two complete lock-to-lock turns of the wheel, and that is really hard without power steering)

  15. Matt:

    Ask any geometry teacher and they should be able to tell you why backing into a parking spot can be better. Try pushing a grocery cart into a small place with the stationary wheels first and then try it with the swiveling wheels going in first. It should be easier with the stationary wheels going in first. It's because you line up the cart with the area before pushing it in, instead of pushing it in and then attempting to line it up while you're pushing it in. It only takes a little practice because most people aren't used to it. I read about its safety benefits, but I do it mostly because it's easier for getting large cars into small areas. Just tonight I taught my friend to back her car into a space that was pretty much impossible for either of us to get into forward without scratching the side of her car. But when backing the car in, we were able to handle it with no problems.

  16. Nr9:

    Backing into parking spaces is way easier than going in forwards, because of the effective reduced turning radius.

    in taiwan, parking lots usually have a policy that requires you to back in parking spaces because going in forwards is too dangerous.

    try playing one of those flash/shockwave parking games. you'll see how much easier it is to go in backwards.

  17. Carlos:

    At work, the folks that back in are always the ones who punch a time clock???

  18. Jared:

    i back into parking spaces:

    driving safety: it's easier to back into parking space upon arrival with my thoughts still on driving. it's far less likely that i'll hit a pedestrian backing into a space. leaving afterwards, i have clear line of vision driving out in forward direction so i can keep eye out for pedestrians bikes & shopping carts.

    crime safety: driving in, because i searched for parking space, i already have sense of who/what is in parking lot before parking. so i am comfortable taking time to back into my space. departing, it's easier to be accosted by predator while going back outside into unfamiliar territory, burdened with shopping bags, perhaps after dusk... if i am actually pursued by someone; upon getting into my car, i can bust out of a parking space in a far faster AND far safer manner by driving out forward.

    hope that helps!

  19. ryan:

    i've used this exact description before. thank you!

  20. Jcole:

    More accidents happen when backing OUT of a parking space than in any other driving situation. Backing in is controlled since you know what's there, and pulling out forward allows you to see cross traffic and pedestrians sooner.

  21. FatrajPat:

    Nice blog !!!

    Parking is big issues for now a days. It is just about inexorable that once you begin driving, you will need to stop in a parking space.


  22. John M:

    My observation is that most people who back into a space are wanna be banditos and the optimum words are "wanna be." They can make the quick getaway in case they have to run from the law, people they just robbed or other criminal types. Saying it's easier to back into a tight space makes no sense. You are having to judge distance on three sides of the auto at one time.

  23. Kourtnie Good:

    After I learned that from Car Talk I always back in.

  24. Kourtnie Good:

    NO! If you understood the turning radius on most cars you'd understand that reversing in gives you more control and a better angle at which to enter said parking spot. PLUS it's SAFER for you to exit the spot, you have a greater site line because you are positioned facing FORWARD out of the parking spot. I refuse to be like anybody else, I am me and that's all I can be. Plus I can park faster and better than you while you are trying to judge space pulling in head first. In many countries it's illegal to pull in head first. Americans are NOT always right.

  25. Kourtnie Good:

    Do you really believe this?

  26. Kourtnie Good:

    The biggest reason I back in is it's MUCH easier to park my car centered in the spot and not be at an angle that will affect those trying to park next to me. I HATE stupid fucktards that can't or won't pull in straight. If you can't get your car in the spot like a decent driver than take the time to straighten your ass out! My parking habits have ZERO to do with vanity or what I drive. I don't own an expensive luxury car so your hypothesis is unfounded.


    I never back in and have never been in an accident from backing out of a parking space. I back out slow and I put my right arm over the passenger seat and look both ways behind me, I back out the same way I pulled in. People that say they back in to avoid accidents; please; if people would pay attention to driving their car instead of everything else people are doing in their vehicles besides driving nowadays there would be fewer accidents period. I think certain people back in so that their license plate cannot be read. I work at a business which is a second chance place of employment for people who have been in prison or jail and 90% of everyone who works there backs up their vehicles into the bushes or weeds along the fence; especially the people who are the loud ones and trouble makers. The people who haven't been to prison or jail just pull in forward. Sorry, know this sounds awful but it is my observation from the people I work with.

  28. dave violet:

    bullshit. you spend more time doing it the way you're doing. It's way easier to park forward in a tight space. you spend too much time backing up. when you pull into a tight space it's quicker. also you're pulling out of a more open space which is quicker also

  29. dave violet:

    well you know what's there when you're backing out also we just have to take a second look it's the same thing