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Parallel parking

Learning to drive

How to parallel park

Parallel parking gets a bad rap for being a nightmare. It also has 2 names - parallel parking and reverse parking. Confusing!

That said, you’ll probably find parallel parking the most useful manoeuvre when you get out on the road. Most high streets dictate that you have to park along the road - so if you don’t want to have to walk 10 minutes from a suitable side street, being able to parallel park is vital.

1. Finding your space

When you see the perfect parking space, there are a few things you need to check before you pull in:

  1. Is it safe?

    • Is it on a bend or too close to a junction?
    • Is it full of broken glass or home to a sleeping cat?
  2. Is it convenient?

    • Are you going to be in someone's way?
    • Is there a driveway in or opposite your space?
    • Are you going to make the road too narrow for other people?
  3. Is it legal?

    • Are there parking restrictions or time restrictions?
    • Is it a disabled parking space?
  4. Is it right for you?

    • Is it on a steep hill that could affect you moving off again?
    • Do you have enough room to park your car?

    You need a minimum space of 1.5 times the length of your own vehicle, ideally twice the length. Here’s a hint: If you’re umming and ahhing about whether you have enough space, you probably don’t.

    You may also have a queue of cars behind you who won’t appreciate you rolling out your imaginary tape measure - look ahead so you can make your decision early.

    As you gain years of experience, you’ll know exactly where your car will and won’t fit. Mostly from being embarrassed so many times.

2. Claiming your space

People get territorial about parking spaces. That might sound weird now, but one day someone will fly into a space you’d been eyeing up and you will feel the anger.

That’s why it’s best to do everything you can to let the people around you know that you’re planning on parking in that space.

There are many different processes for parallel parking, this one that works for me:

  1. Look

    Look right ahead to scan for suitable spaces. Then check your mirrors - who are you going to affect?

  2. Tell people

    Put on your indicator as you slowly approach the space you have chosen, then pull up before the space rather than after it. This will give you an opportunity to assess the space, and people will see that you’re eyeing it up.

  3. Position

    Move slowly to just past the space, keeping your indicator on. This should let the people behind you know what you’re doing and that they can pass you.

  4. Reverse gear

    Select reverse gear as soon as you can. The reverse lights will turn on at the rear of your car, which tells people your plan. The brake lights will also make them feel safer that they can pass and that you’re not going to race back at them.

    Only keep the indicator on until you're moving into the space, as it'll be obvious what you're doing after that!

3. Parking in it

Like with all manoeuvres, your observation is incredibly important. Remember: you're a hazard! Your car is sticking out into the road, so OBSERVATION at all times.

When parallel parking, you need to make sure that you’re always keeping an eye out behind you for anything that might affect you, or that you might make a problem for. Especially be on the look out for pedestrians in and around your space. Please, think of the children.

  1. Position

    Make sure you're parallel to the parked car in front of your space, and 1 metre out from it if the road is wide enough.

    Then reverse with your wheels straight, until your front door is about even with theirs - if your car is about the same size. If you're parking behind a tow truck, that ain't gonna work.

    What matters is that the rear of your car should be level with the one you're reversing around - or the front, depending on which way they're parked.

    Don't forget to look before you move, including your blind spot.
    Parallel parking - step 1
  2. 45 degree angle

    Reversing very slowly, turn the steering wheel 1 full turn (not full lock) to the left, until your car is at a 45 degree angle.

    This gives you the angle for your car to enter what seems like an impossibly little space.

    Your nose is now out in the road so be aware of any cars approaching. If there's room, stop to let them pass. If there's not - keep going!

    For those who skipped maths that day, this is a 45 degree angle:
    Parallel parking - step 2
  3. Move into the space

    Still moving sloooooowly, turn the steering wheel quickly 1 full turn back to the right to straighten the wheels.

    You should be looking in your left mirror, watching out for the kerb to appear so you can be sure you don't reverse too far.

    You're still moving out of the road so be aware of other cars and keep an eye out behind you in case someone's stepped out between the cars.

    Parallel parking - step 3
  4. Straighten up

    When your back wheel is nearly as far from the kerb as you'd like it to be when you're finished, turn your steering wheel fully to the right.

    Take one more look around to check it's safe all around you, which you can probably do as you move because you're out of the way of traffic now.

    Your wheels need to end up about 1 foot from the kerb. You can always pull forward a little bit if you go too far but moving slowly should give you time to judge it right.
    Parallel parking - step 4
  5. Perfect finish

    As your car comes into line with the kerb, turn your steering wheel back left to the 12 o'clock position.

    You should have nice straight wheels and be 1 foot from the kerb so move backwards or forwards to straighten up if you need to - always having a quick look around first.

    If you truly mess up the parallel park in your test, ask to pull back out to your 45 degree angle (with perfect observation). Depending on the instructor and how much time you've spent on the manouevre, you may be allowed start again from the beginning.
    Parallel parking - step 5

Got the hang of parallel parking? Check out the other manoeuvres in the driving test.

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