How to Reverse a Car – Huge Guide For Drivers

Wondering how to reverse a car? Reversing or backing up a car can be so confusing, especially for new drivers. Don’t worry if it’s your first time driving backwards – or forwards – and you are feeling lost wondering how to back up a car. It just takes a little bit of practice. And we have lots of info to help you make sense of this whole thing, including:

  • How to properly start the reversing process
  • Reversing safety protocol and tips
  • Where to look when reversing
  • How to do the 360 checks and when
  • Reversing exercises to improve the skill
  • Where it’s illegal to reverse a car

How to Reverse a Car

Shift Into Reverse First 

Of course, when you’re about to reverse park, you would normally check your mirrors and signal your intentions. Then, the first thing you should always do when you’re about to reverse or park is to shift your vehicle into reverse gear.

This sounds obvious, but this is important because:

  • It will activate the white, reversing lights on the rear of your vehicle.
  • This alerts other people around you that you plan to reverse; most are not psychic

Reversing a car: while cars can’t talk, this is how they “say” they are in reverse gear

reversing a car
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If you don’t shift into reverse before reversing a car, the people driving behind you might not realize you want to back up. They might drive too close behind you, maybe making it impossible for you to perform your maneuver.

Say you want to parallel park. If you don’t shift into reverse in a timely fashion, other people might think you are simply planning to turn right.

So, in light of the very obvious fact that we can not normally talk to – or hear – other drivers around us, or read each others’ minds… This is a crucial step to communicate your intent about beginning your reversing adventure. This is necessary because the other road users around you may be affected by your actions.

Do Your 360-Degree Check Before Reversing a Car

The second thing you should always do any and every time you shift into reverse is the 360-degree check. Some people call this a circle check.

reversing circle check
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When you’re going to be reversing a car, it’s a lot more difficult to see what is going on around your vehicle as opposed to when you’re going forwards. This is because when you’re backing up, the rest of your entire vehicle is blocking your view.

Cars commonly reverse in parking lots, driveways, and malls.

These are areas where there is a high probability that there will be pedestrians walking, kids, dogs, skateboarders, other people reversing, etc. There are blind spots where each and every one of these things can ‘hide.’

So, it’s important to check around your vehicle in a full circle every time immediately before you reverse, especially remembering that people and cars are moving things.

One second there is nothing there, and one moment later, the entire scene can be different.

The idea is to spot any approaching hazards, and be aware of everything that is going on around your vehicle, in a full circle, the moment before you reverse; which minimizes time going by and the situation changing.

Pro Tip: Grab some mini blind spot mirrors or a convex rear-view mirror from Amazon or somewhere else. These can literally be your extra eyes, and help you to see so much more.

reversing a car in the parking lot
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If you’re going to reverse to the right or in a straight line, look over your right shoulder when you’re reversing. This is so that you’re looking in the direction your car is going.

When you drive forwards, you look forwards. When you drive backward, look backward. So simple.

  • Like, turn your head and look behind you. Looking in the mirror does not count! This is because blind spots are a huge problem when backing up.

In this situation, you should start your 360-degree check from the left to the right.

This means, doing a left shoulder check, scanning the left mirror, scanning the rear-view mirror, scanning the right mirror, and then looking over the right shoulder to back up.

If you’re going to reverse to the left, it means you’ll be looking left so that you are looking in the direction your car is going. So, you should start your 360-degree check from the right.

This means, doing a right shoulder check, scanning the right mirror, scanning the rear-view mirror, and then looking over the left shoulder (most of the time) while reversing.

When You Are Finished Reversing

As soon as you are finished reversing, always shift out of reverse right away. Like now, not later. Shift into the park, or drive gear, or neutral; something else, anything else, other than the reverse.

shift gears when done reversing
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Do not stay in reverse gear, while you ponder the universe, check your email, or sit in the car waiting for someone.

People have forgotten that they’re in reverse and have accidentally backed up and caused collisions. This is very easy to do and only takes a split second.

This could be particularly devastating if you were in a parking lot where pedestrians were walking behind your vehicle. Many automatic cars especially, could start moving backward the instant you remove your foot from the brake. Make this a habit that you do automatically without thinking.

How to Reverse a Car – Your Seat belt Is Optional When Reversing

seat belts are optional when driving backwards in british columbia
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You’re allowed to remove your seat belt in beautiful British Columbia when reversing a car if it makes things easier for you. Remember, though, that as soon as you are in a forward gear and moving in a forward fashion again, then you must legally have it on again.

How to Reverse a Car In a Straight Line 

Shift to reverse & perform your 360-degree check. Place your left hand on the top/middle of the steering wheel (12:30).

backing up in a straight line
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Look over your right shoulder through the rear window. Focus on something in the middle of the window, if possible, such as a tree or parked car that is directly in the center of your rear window.

The car goes in the direction you are looking. It’s a real thing. Proceed at a walking pace. This is the only time that you are allowed to have only one hand on the steering wheel during the ICBC road test. Be sure to check out my epic article: ICBC Road Test Tips For Classes 5 & 7 [Instructor Gets Deep].

How to Reverse a Car To The Right

  •  Shift to reverse & perform your 360-degree check
  • Look over your right shoulder out the rear right window, or wherever you can see the most
  • It’s okay to check the front of the mirrors momentarily
  • You should use two hands to steer unless or until you’re backing up in a perfectly straight line, as above.

Which way to turn the steering wheel when reversing a car?

A lot of new drivers are confused about this, so don’t worry if you are one of them. It’s very simple. Think about it this way: it is the same direction as when you are driving forwards when you want your car to go rightwards.

  • If you are driving forwards and you want to turn right, you turn the steering wheel to the right, right?
  • So, when you are driving in reverse and you want to turn the car backward and to the right, simply turn the steering wheel to the right.
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The exception of course is if you are reversing a trailer. If you’re backing your boat into the water, and you need your boat to go to the left, you need to turn your steering wheel to the right.

Which is really confusing and very terrible for dyslexic people like me. But we are just talking about the basics here for now.

backing a car to the right
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To Reverse A Car To The Left

  • Shift to reverse & perform your 360-degree check
  • Look over your left shoulder most of the time, out whichever left window that you can see the most
  • It’s okay to check the front of the mirrors momentarily

You should use two hands to steer unless or until you’re backing up in a perfectly straight line, as above.

Don’t Reverse A Car Where It’s Illegal

In beautiful British Columbia, it is illegal to reverse:

  • Into an intersection and
  • On a crosswalk and
  • Anytime it’s unsafe

British columbia Motor Vehicle Act

193: Caution in backing a vehicle

The driver of a vehicle must not cause the vehicle to move backwards into an intersection or over a crosswalk, and must not in any event or at any place cause a vehicle to move backwards unless the movement can be made in safety.

ICBC Claim centre information

How To Improve Your Reversing Skills

Practice your backing with 8’s

A common exercise I would get my student drivers to do when I was teaching driving lessons was this: have them reverse in a figure 8 shape. This works better, assuming of course, that you can find a large empty parking lot to practice in.

I know you will never “need” to reverse in a figure 8 shape while on your daily commute to work. However, this is excellent practice for any driver. If you can get good at this, then you are coming a long way with the whole backing-up thing.

I used to have student drivers reverse in an 8-shape around poles in a parking lot. Of course, you don’t need the poles. But, it does make it easier since you have a marker.

If you are too worried about accidentally crashing into the poles, then you can try without them of course. It’s just hard to envision your 8 for some people. I suppose you could get creative and use some cones or something like that, too.

If you’re having a hard time picturing your 8, simply do a few 8’s going forwards first. That is way easier, and you can learn where your 8 would be for going backward.

This is a pretty big 8 we are talking about, too. Don’t make it too small. Go big here. This is a lot of steering and can hurt a new driver’s brain, so going big gives you more time to do all of this steering and controlling the vehicle, which is the whole thing we are trying to learn and practice.

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Additional Reversing Exercises For New Drivers

Another way to practice driving backward is simply by backing to the L shape to the right and to the left. This is easier than driving in a backward 8 shape. Don’t forget to practice driving backward in a straight line, too.

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This is an excellent exercise as well. Try doing your backward ‘L’ type shape several times each to the right and left.

All of these crucial exercise help to:

  • Teach you about backing, and practice your 360-degree check to make it automatic
  • Where to look, how much to turn the wheel, etc.
  • Get you in the habit of safe backing
  • Prepare you for real car parking

Parallel parking & reverse stall parking aren’t actually that different or hard. But they do tend to be a lot more stressful due to the obvious fact of commonly needing to do them with other traffic around. But they are a lot easier if you’ve learned and practiced these fundamental essentials.

Where To Find Big Empty Parking Lots

These can seem hard to come by sometimes. Check out:

  • Malls when they aren’t crazy
  • Schools
  • Universities
  • Church (most tend to be empty on days that aren’t Sunday)
  • Walmart, Superstore parking lots

Is It Illegal to Back out of my Driveway?

There is no law against it

back out of my driveway
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There’s no law that says you can’t back out of your own driveway.

Sometimes it is not safe to reverse into your driveway and not possible to turn around once in it; therefore you would have to go forwards into it and would be forced to reverse out of it.

The law says this about reversing

Caution in backing a vehicle

193 The driver of a vehicle must not cause the vehicle to move backwards into an intersection or over a crosswalk, and must not in any event or at any place cause a vehicle to move backwards unless the movement can be made in safety.” (Motor Vehicle Act)

When most people reverse out of their driveway they are simply reversing onto a street mid-block, which is not considered an intersection

An intersection is a place where one road meets with another road; where the road meets with a parking lot, lane, or driveway is not an intersection.

So unless your house is located in the middle of an intersection or ridiculously close to one (anything is possible I guess!) then I can’t see how it would be necessarily illegal to reverse out of your driveway.

Also, when you reverse out of a driveway you may be reversing over a sidewalk, but probably not a crosswalk; the crosswalk is the thing located AT the intersection.

So, make sure it is safe and clear, then reverse

Yes please signal for this. Others may be able to see your signal, including people that you are not aware of –  legally you must only signal if there’s someone to signal to.

If you can, reverse into your driveway so that you don’t have to reverse out of it; usually, that is a much safer option with much greater visibility.

When you reverse in, you can check out the space you’ll be reversing into and then reverse; when you reverse out, the space you’re reversing into may be constantly changing.

In instances where you must reverse with poor visibility, get a spotter, or at least sound your horn to alert others

Keep in mind, vehicles exiting driveways (whether it may be forward or backward) are required to yield to road users already traveling down the road.

Keep in mind the basic right of way, though. If a vehicle has already reversed from a driveway onto the roadway and then a vehicle traveling down the road is approaching, the approaching vehicle is now legally required to yield, since the vehicle exiting the driveway was in the space first.

If you see someone trying to reverse out of their driveway and you want to stop and let them out, that is fine – just make sure it is actually safe to stop considering the vehicle(s) behind you, road conditions, etc.

Can I Reverse Out Of Driveway Across Solid Yellow Line?

There is no specific law against this. You are required to make sure it is safe before you reverse and while reversing, and to avoid impeding traffic.

Motor Vehicle Act (BC)

Is it illegal to reverse on the main road?

No, there’s no law in British Columbia against reversing on a main road. If you can do it safely, then it’s legal. As long as you aren’t backing up over a crosswalk or into an intersection, then it’s legal.


Reversing a car is feared by many new drivers. It seems hard enough to drive forwards; how can anyone drive backward? However, it really just is a matter of practice; which is kind of the same as the driving forward thing as well.

Taking the time to do these basic backing exercises is worth every second. It makes your life so much easier when the time comes to actually parallel- or reverse-stall-park, or park on a hill and turn your wheels the right correct way.

Attempting to parallel or reverse stall park without this important foundation can be one of the most confusing things in the world to a new driver.

It’s recommended to mimic real life as much as possible when practicing your backing and parking skills. Some people can drive quite well but have never bothered to back up at all. They’re left with the non-fun task of parking and parking and parking, for hours, until they get it, so they can go pass the road test. How annoying is that?

In real life, we don’t go to the parking lot and park for an hour. We drive somewhere and then we park once when we get there. Then we drive somewhere else and park once when we get there. This is just a much easier method on the brain. Just a suggestion. I know most learners totally don’t tend to do it that way… lol.


Carmen Cohoe

Carmen became a driving instructor in beautiful North Vancouver at the age of 22 due to some crazy people who agreed to hire her. After that, there was never a dull moment teaching many different folks from many different places how to drive using automatic and standard vehicles and a minivan.

24 thoughts on “How to Reverse a Car – Huge Guide For Drivers

  • Kylie

    Hi Carmen,

    I am having a hard time passing my road tests…The 1st time (in Richmond) the guy said I shouldn’t have waited as long for a left hand turn and “gone for it” even though I didn’t see a safe gap and he said thats what failed me. The 2nd time (in Richmond) I thought I was out of the playground zone so I sped up and instant fail… The 3rd time (in Langley) he said I was going to slow at 45km/hour in a 50km/hour zone and I did that 9 times and the limit was 7 so I failed, he said I am a very safe and cautious driver and that I did all my signals, shoulder checks, 360 checks, parking and turns great and that if I had just sped up, I would have passed…The 4th time (in Richmond) I had waited all day for an appointment as I was on the standby list and then finally got an appointment but then I started the test and I was feeling nervous/anxious. The reason I failed was I was waiting to turn left and my light turned orange so I turned to go but then a J-walker ran out and decided to cross in the cross walk when they weren’t supposed to go and I didn’t see them right away so the lady said “woah watch out” and I knew I failed right then and there…

    I am really frustrated because the test and driving is all about different circumstances and being able to react/deal with it. How can I be more aware other than scanning the road every 5 seconds and do you have any tips for me to pass? I have been reading your entire blog and that has really helped, but I am now doubting my skills after failing this many times…Also, not having this license is now effecting my career as I am required to have a license for my new job and without it, I don’t get the job….

    I have a test booked for September 13th in the Richmond location as this was the earliest one to book…Langley, Burnaby, Point Grey, Vancouver, etc. were all in late October and November….

    I do suffer from anxiety and I get intimidated with a male licensor as I am not used to driving alone with a male…I don’t know what to do as I have done multiple driving lessons, lots of practicing and driving to different locations (Hope, Squamish, Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Richmond, Langley…) and I just don’t know what to do…I am starting to doubt myself and getting stuck thinking that I will never get my license…

    And because I live in Richmond, I am getting discouraged as I see all these terrible drivers not using signals, cutting people off, excessively speeding, causing accidents, terrible parking, taking risks at intersections and I wonder how they all got their licenses…

    • Oh wow that sounds so frustrating. First of all, you aren’t the only one so don’t feel like as though you are because I’ve seen a lot of people fail the road test 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 times because of anxiety. Sometimes it’s good if you just stop trying, I know that sounds really weird but it might work! Do you know what I mean? Like go for the road test but pretend you don’t really care that much if you pass or fail just don’t try too hard, sometimes people try too hard and then it just causes too much stress and then people do strange things. Have you taken some driving lessons with a driving instructor ?? And yes you’re right other drivers do not always set a good example for you so that for sure doesn’t help. Don’t give up you’ll get it!! :)

      • Kylie

        Thanks Carmen!

        Yeah I have done lessons and they don’t understand why I keep failing but I do drive different with the testers as I get all nervous/anxious.

        I try to just breathe and push the anxiety away but it always creeps up on me right before I start driving for these tests. I get what your saying and I tried that with the Langley one and I just got a strict licensor who didn’t like that I was going 45 in a 50 zone even though I did everything else perfect.

        Thanks again for this great website and replying so quickly. I really hope to pass next time and I’ll keep you updated with my next test. I really want the freedom/responsibility of driving and to just get it done!

        – Kylie

        • Hey girl, yeah I get that because I have that problem with public speaking, I start to shake and then I think I might fall over even before I have even said one word, haha it sucks. I’m going to try and research how to become less anxious on tests, maybe there’s some secret tips or something. The other driving instructors I saw sometimes said to picture the driving examiner in their underwear. I don’t really get that but maybe it works for some people?! lol, Let me know how it goes and all the best..!!!

  • esvie

    when parked between cars how far should I back up before. steering my wheel right or left when getting out of the parking lot

  • Barry

    Hi examiner, I was wondering when I’m parallel parking should I put my right hand on the passenger seat or not. Also when I’m parallel parking should I look through the rear window and front windshield or just the rear mirror

    • You can put your hand there if you want; it’s totally optional. When you’re parallel parking you have to keep checking all the different areas. You need to check the front of your car to make sure it clears the other car, you have to check the mirror to see how close you are from the curb so you can stop before you make contact with it, and also looking over the right shoulder when your car is moving backwards to make sure you’re observing your environment. So in other words keep your eyes and your head moving when parallel parking; if you keep them in the same place the entire time you’re probably going to miss some critical information or possibly be a danger to pedestrians or other vehicles that you don’t know are there.

  • Kevin Pan

    Hi the examiner ask me to pull over to curb in a short distance, and there is a car ahead (No car behind my car). I found I was too far away to curb. I try to fix it by back to right to curb, and straight the car by backing to left. May I fix it by back straight, and pull over again?

    • I think as long as you fix it eventually… They are not usually timing you.. Just want to make sure you can pull over and/or fix it like if you were in real life, You wouldn’t want to leave the car too far away from the curb..

  • Liseth

    Is it neccesary to put my right hand on the other seat to look over my right shoulder through the rear window when backing up straight? I have tried it but my car doesn’t keep straight when I do that so I keep both of my hands in the steering wheel to control it so that I can back up straight but I do look through the rear window but keeping both of my hands on the steering wheel

    • You don’t have to keep your hand there, no!! It just usually helps to keep the car straight if your hand is on the top of the wheel. But do whatever works for sure, As long as the car is going straight and you are looking in the direction you are going it’s all good.

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