Steve Wallace: When it comes to parking-lot mishaps, design matters

Mall parking lots are free of charge, a dream come true for some and a nightmare for others. There are basic rules that apply to all drivers and others in seemingly low speed, non-threatening level areas.

One of my associates at DriveSmartBC confirmed the crash statistics for parking-lot mishaps in 2018, the most recent year of reporting. There were 96,000 claims. This high number is indicative of the danger in parking lots. The real number of crashes will never be truly known, since many more are not reported to the authorities and never get to the claims stage. Some drivers would rather settle the matter without the resulting adverse and predictable insurance repercussions. It is likely not the best way of proceeding, but there are exceptions to the general rule of claiming mishaps.

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The design of the parking lot plays a role in the number of insurance claims made in our province. When a low boulevard separation system is used, particularly at malls, there will be a greater number of mishaps. This design mandates the elimination of the safest way to park, namely drive-through spots. Eliminating the necessity to back out is the best way to lower any parking-lot-crash potential.

Many malls offer a choice for drivers and at the same time try to ensure pedestrian safety. They have sidewalk options for shoppers and offer non-sidewalk options in an alternating fashion, which allows for the drive-through option.

Some shopping malls alienate their customers with a ridiculous parking configuration. Some spaces are too small, even violating the size mandated by the resident municipality. Some municipalities, in bygone decades, never defined the actual size of a parking space in their bylaws. This opened the door to smaller spaces, with no resulting municipal authority to do a retroactive correction.

Some of the worst examples of a parking nightmare scenario include far more than undersized spaces. High curbs seem to be the credo of some developers. Why would anyone put relatively innocuous high curbs in close quarters? Maybe they are trying to protect pedestrians. There are better ways to do this without ambushing drivers with high-profile, low-level curbs. Put up no-post barriers or portable heavy duty plastic posts.

Parking lots with the lowest crash potential are those with a mandated one-way travel option. There are parkades with no drive-through option, which are much safer because of the one-way nature of construction and regulation.

The most ridiculous parking option I have ever witnessed is one developed by a company from the southern United States for the Canadian north. The first mistake they made was to have a great degree of slant to the asphalt. This was meant to allow for water runoff.

What works in California does not necessarily work in northern B.C. It does not take too much imagination for the average Canadian to predict the potential for disaster. On a cold winter afternoon, the icy parking lot got a pelting and unexpected rainfall.

The temperature increase, because of a temperature inversion, coated the lot with water on ice. This situation caused unoccupied but properly parked vehicles to begin to move down the slope of the paved parking lot. It was a bumper-car cavalcade of crunching sounds and vehicles demonically possessed, in motion and in unison.

Parking strategically is the best way to avoid an unpleasant bump-and-run instance by an unaware, or not so unaware, fellow driver exiting a parking lot or parkade.

Space is your friend. Use it wisely.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former V.P. of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a U of Manitoba graduate.

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