A Look At Life: Parking

19th September 2014

The Perils Of Parking
(or, what i learned from a Vauxhall Viva…)

Eluned Thorne

One of the things I learned early on in my relationship with my other half was that he and I approach the finding of parking spaces differently. Very differently.

When I drive into a car park, I’ll generally dice straight into the first space I see that I think I can safely squeeze into, and I will be very grateful for it. To me, this is a straightforward and pragmatic approach that has seen me through thirty years of car parking with very few problems.

My husband has a more high-risk strategy. He doesn’t pick the first space, or the second, or the third: in fact, he will ignore many perfectly good spaces if he thinks there is a reasonable chance of getting a better one later on. This results in circling the car park seemingly endlessly, with me squeaking ‘There’s one!’ at intervals whilst he steadfastly ignores me.

Unfortunately a] I’ve never managed to get to grips with his mental parking space hierarchy (if, indeed, he has one – I usually try to suppress the disloyal thought that this might be a ruse to disguise the fact that locating spaces, for some of society, is off the radar: akin to failing to spot the butter in the fridge) and b] I have a lower tolerance for risk than he does, and so am always in fear of us reaching the top floor or the exit without having acquired a space at all, because we have squandered them all to the more opportunistic drivers behind us.

Having eventually located an acceptable space, though, let us move on to the even thornier issue of the parking manoeuvre itself. I realise that if I get too technical this is going to read like a road awareness document, but for the sake of accuracy I did look the subject up on Wikipedia. It lists four types of parking: parallel, perpendicular, echelon and ‘other parking methods’. The first three are distinguished by the fact that they are as hard to spell as they are to enact, and the last one includes valet parking, so it’s just distinguished. (And no, I hadn’t heard of echelon parking either, but it sounds very posh, too.)

I am ancient enough that I didn’t have to learn how to parallel park in order to pass my driving test; this part of the exam was only introduced in the early 1990s. Previously, all that was required in terms of parking was to stop safely at the kerb, frontwards, without stalling or catapulting the examiner out of his seat by overdoing the braking. Anyone who took their test in a Vauxhall Viva, as I did, will know that the clutch on that particular vehicle was designed by the devil himself; I could hear him chuckling every time I attempted a hill start. So the fact that I managed to pass my test first time without any unscheduled stops or unwomanly judders was enough for me.

However, with experience I have realised that parking, whether parallel, perpendicular, or at a funny angle to the kerb (as I believe ‘echelon parking’ is known in plain English), is one of the few things in life that is best done backwards. It has this in common with waltzing (if you’re female), rowing a boat, and leaving the room after you’ve met the Queen. My very technical explanation for this is the fact that the steering mechanism turns the front wheels instead of the back ones, so you can do a better wiggle going backwards than you can going forwards, and thus get into tight spaces more easily.

It is one thing to realise what the best manoeuvre is – quite another to perfect it. Doing so has taken me years of practice and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, accompanied by a dawning realisation that the ‘left arm insouciantly across the back of the passenger seat’ pose so beloved of confident reversers is best left to people with longer arms than mine. But here’s another thing I discovered in my quest for parking facts: much to almost everybody’s surprise, a recent study (2012, by NCP) on parking accuracy found that women, not men, are better at lining themselves up and reverse-parking cleanly. It must be all that waltzing we do.

To redress the balance, it also found that women take on average five seconds longer than men to park. Presumably that five seconds makes up for the extra time the men took to find the space in the first place…

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