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The main thing drivers can do this holiday season to keep pedestrians safe

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Dec 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-10 18:00:51-05

RICHMOND, Va. A new study by AAA finds that most Virginians aren’t parking properly. The automotive club says there is one common mistake drivers make, and it puts pedestrians at a greater risk.

AAA warned drivers to avoid this common parking lot mistake during the holiday season.

More than 76 percent of U.S. drivers most frequently park their vehicle by pulling forward into a parking spot, rather than backing in to the space.

Experts say doing so is a riskier practice because pedestrians are more vulnerable when a driver later reverses from the spot.

One of every five motor vehicle crashes takes place in a parking lot, research shows.

On top of that, 14 percent of all automobile damage claims involve a crash on a parking lot.

“Parking lots can become war zones during the peak Christmas holiday shopping season,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “

Despite the growing popularity of rear cross traffic alert systems, designed to alert drivers to traffic passing behind a reversing vehicle, the systems don’t always work.

AAA found in tests that significant system limitations exist when parked between larger vehicles, such as SUVs or minivans. In this common parking lot scenario, the tested systems failed to detect pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles and other vehicles at alarming rates:

  • A passing motorcycle was not detected by the systems in 48 percent of tests.
  • The systems failed to detect a bicycle passing behind the vehicle 40 percent of the time.
  • The systems failed to detect a passing vehicle 30 percent of the time.
  • While not all systems are designed to detect pedestrians, the technology failed to detect pedestrians 60 percent of the time.
  • “Recognizing that American parking habits differ from much of the world, automakers are increasingly adding technology to vehicles that is designed to address rear visibility concerns,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “However, AAA’s testing of these systems reveals significant shortcomings when used in real-world conditions and Americans should rely more on driving skills than technology.”

“AAA’s independent testing showed that rear cross traffic alert systems failed to work effectively in several test vehicles,” cautioned Megan McKernan, manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center. “It’s critical that drivers reverse slowly and use this technology as an aid to, not a substitute for, safe driving.”

Previous AAA testing of rear-view camera systems, required on all new vehicles by 2018, revealed significant consumer benefits including increased visibility of the rear blind zone by an average of 46 percent.

However, it’s important to note that no system shows 100 percent of the space behind a vehicle and that rain, snow or slush can impede camera visibility.

“When it comes to parking, the majority of American drivers are on the naughty list this year,” said Thomas Calcagni, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Director of Public and Government Affairs. “Pulling out of a parking spot, instead of reversing, is an easy way to increase safety and visibility in busy parking lots this holiday season.”

Here are some rules to follow while navigating parking lots.

  • Slow down. Parking lots are not speedways.
  • Stay visible. Turn on your headlights. You want pedestrians and other drivers to see you.
  • Be aware of others. Don’t assume pedestrians see you.
  • Keep an eye out for children. They are often are not paying attention.
  • Look out for pedestrians.  Look three ways before moving: up front or behind, and to both sides.
  • Never cut across parking space lanes.
  • Stay focused. Distracted driving is dangerous in parking lots, too. That means not using your cellphone while pulling in or out of parking spaces.
  • Avoid the chaos. Shop during less busy hours. Park away from the entrance (in a well-lit area) to avoid the competition for prime spots.
  • Be patient.  Road rage can happen in parking lots, just as it can in rush-hour traffic. If you get in a parking lot jam, remain calm instead of driving aggressively.