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Is Backing In to a Parking Space Really the Jackass Ballet It Looks Like?

Fans claim it’s safer, more efficient and better for the flow of a garage. But is it worth pissing off every other driver in the lot?

One of the things that irritates me most in life is the back-in parker. As a line of cars grows in the street, I sit and wait for this jackass ballet to conclude, my eyes burning with fury as the driver checks his mirrors and adjusts again and again before finally sliding into the space — back end, of course, first. All the while, I make sure to get a good look at him so that if I see him inside, I might finally realize my dream of confronting him on his parking technique, something I’m convinced is a trait of serial killers.

Many have tweeted about this frustration before, but some do in fact take it to the next level by complaining in person, according to Carrie, a 47-year-old back-in parker in Wichita. “It really seems to piss off people,” she tells me. “I’ve had people yell and make rude gestures at me for doing it. One time a lady screamed at me in front of her two small children about how I was a fucking menace.”

When I put out the call to speak to back-in parkers like Carrie, I quickly got more than 300 responses, and get this: They judge us for not backing into parking spaces. They think we’re the ones who suck. Some of them even say my obsession is petty and that I should get a life. (Nice try, but being petty IS my life.)

Making matters worse, these responses weren’t all from guys wearing wrap-around Oakleys who drive a 2002 stick-shift Honda Civic hatchback like it’s a fucking Porsche. Some of the back-in parkers are women! And dorks who care about the safety of others! Jack, a 38-year-old who managed an 800-space parking garage for several years, truly believes backing into a space is the better option. “There were no specific rules to back in at our garage, but it was always encouraged when drivers signed a contract to lease a space,” he says. “I always back in anywhere I park, unless there’s not enough space to maneuver. Backing in is always preferable.”

Marc, a 40-year-old transportation engineer in Georgia, is also a big proponent of back-in parking. “Back-in parking gives the driver visibility when they leave the parking spot, which helps protect cyclists. Also when back-in parking, the cars behind the person backing in have to stop to let the car back up, unlike pull-in angled parking. This slows cars and forces them to be more aware of their surroundings, which always helps with bike and pedestrian safety, too.”

Safety is probably the No. 1 reason why people back in, and AAA, um, backs this up. Every year, approximately 300 people are killed and 18,000 injured by drivers backing out of driveways or parking spaces. And so, AAA recommends, “Drivers reverse into parking spaces whenever possible, except where prohibited by law or parking lot restrictions.” (I ask Jack about these rules, and he says they’re about making it easy for cops to check for expired plates, or for parking garage security to look for stickers or tags that indicate a person is allowed to park in reserved spaces.)

The convenience of being able to leave quickly is another popular reason for backing in. But as a hater, I have to ask: What time is saved here? Also, why do you need to leave so quickly? The only time I’ve ever needed to haul ass out of a location was when I saw my nemesis at the grocery store while I was braless and buying cat foot and ice cream. 

Once again, much to my chagrin, people have solid answers to my questions, especially when it comes to being forward-facing when trying to leave a large event like a concert. Admittedly, it does seem helpful to be able to see a fellow driver in hopes that they give you the wave to pull out. This also allows you to look them in the eye when you give them the finger after they don’t. Another advantage to this strategy, according to Jack, is it allows the parking lot to accommodate more cars: “For concerts, fairs or sporting events, most open lots will have car ushers inside to help drivers back-in, allowing them to fit vehicles closer together. More cars equals more money in parking fees.”

Lastly, at least in terms of time-saving, science proves me wrong, too. A 2014 study about the correlation between parking behaviors and productivity showed that the more people that rear-parked in a country, the higher the increase in that nation’s productivity. China, where almost everyone backs in, was at the top of the productivity list, and the U.S. was at the bottom. Shocker!

In the U.S., there’s a little regional action at play as well. A lot of it seems to be tied to areas with heavy truck use — e.g., Texas, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. Apparently, it’s much easier to back in with a big-ass truck than it is to navigate the turn necessary to just pull in.

Although most people say they learned to back in from their dad, others claim it was working in certain industries that got them fully onboard. Some companies require it when using a corporate car, and places at risk for explosions (labs, oil refineries, etc.) want employees to be able to evacuate the premises as quickly as possible. It’s sometimes even referred to as “combat parking,” since the military also requires it.

More technologically speaking, proponents of back-in parking point out that rear-facing cameras make it easier than ever to line up your car and pull on in. Back-in haters, however, argue the opposite point: that rear-facing cameras make it easier (and safer) to back out of spaces now, rendering backing in unnecessary. Other complaints include the fact that the side mirrors can interfere with your neighbor’s ability to open their doors when you’ve backed in to a space and they haven’t. Front-facing parking is also the best way to access your trunk when you’re loading up your big-box store bounty. 

Good points, everyone! I’m convinced enough to be a little less judgmental the next time I see a car back in. After all, it might seem annoying to those waiting, but I’m actually being safer by not backing out while I’m opening up a bag of cheese puffs and tweeting. I’m very close to being a good person.