Right-of-way in the parking lot

(Last Updated On: April 25, 2014)

Question : I am driving out of a parking lot. Several meters ahead of me, the back up lights on car in a parked space come on. Do I continue driving forward past the car, which is obviously in reverse, as I have the right of way. Or do I stop and allow the car with the back up lights to reverse out of its space. Similarly if I am backing out of a parking space when should I put my vehicle into reverse (lighting the back up lights)…..only when I see there are no other vehicles behind me? I have a friend who will not pass a vehicle in a parking lot if the vehicle has the back up lights on. Better safe than sorry is their approach. I am wondering what is correct.

Here’s my opinion on this:

I don’t think there’s always a yes/no/right/wrong answer.

Better safe than sorry- I can agree with that as a general rule of thumb for sure.

If you are driving along and a car is trying to back up the choice really is yours; you can keep going (and honk if necessary to alert the driver that you are going past) or you could stop and let the person out if you feel like it. I think it is generally understood that cars in reverse must yield to cars going forward, but a car must also yield to any other car that is already in a space before them. Courts generally place blame on the vehicle who was reversing in the event of a collision.

Common sense and communication can go a long way.

I think also its important to put your car in reverse if you are trying to tell other drivers that you’d like to start reversing. Otherwise they will have no idea that you are trying to get out as they are not necessarily psychic. I know that if people see the white lights sometimes they freak out because they think you are going to back into them but I don’t see anything wrong with having the car in reverse as a signal of intent; after all isn’t that what those lights are for, at least in part?

It all depends on the situation and what kind of message you want to send to people. Are there 5 people standing in the middle of the parking lot having a long conversation and are in your way? Then maybe the white lights (and maybe a friendly honk) would be necessary. If you don’t have the lights on, then they simply might think you are sitting in your car waiting for someone. I would not put the car in reverse if there is a little old lady walking right behind you or a mother with a stroller; we do not want any heart attacks.

The other thing to realize is if you stop and let the vehicle out then there is little chance of it running into you. If you keep driving past a car that’s in reverse and there is miscommunication or the driver doesn’t see you or the drivers foot slips (or whatever else), then there is still a chance he could suddenly run into you as you go past. And it probably wouldn’t be your fault but that’s beside the point. Hopefully we are all striving to avoid collisions regardless of fault.

Also I find If you let the car out then you have good karma and someone will let you out also. If you are planning to keep going don’t be afraid to do a short and Friendly tap on the horn to alert the driver. This is not to get mad but just to say “hey, there is a car going behind you right now.” Obviously it is hard to see when backing and people do not want to run into you; if they had a choice most people would gladly stop when they heard a horn honking rather than crashing into something they didn’t know was there.

Use eye contact whenever possible. People won’t freak out if you are looking at them to let them know that you’ve seen them. Of course this is a little difficult at times to obtain when vehicles and drivers are facing walls and fences and trees  and not one another.

I can not possibly write this article without mentioning that if everyone simply reversed into spaces, whenever possible then we wouldn’t even have much of this problem, would we?

Reference:

Backing in parking lots – DriveSmartBC

Many moons ago, Carmen became an ICBC-approved driving instructor at the age of 22 in North Vancouver, and has spent many years working with new and experienced drivers around the lower mainland. She can be found reading the Motor Vehicle Act for fun while receiving strange looks from others. May the quest for great driving continue!

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