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How to Parallel Park a Car

Arriving at one’s destination in a very crowded city with limited parking can be a worrisome event.  The driver has landed…but now, where to park?  The parking structures are full, or they charge enough to make a mortgage payment.  Parking is available on the street, but that could mean…no, oh, no…not that…parallel parking!

To many drivers, parallel parking may present a navigational challenge that nearly exceeds that of spacecraft landing on an alien planet.  Some drivers would prefer to take the bus.  Some may even just stay home.  But it is truly not necessary for the driver whose entire being is filled with fear and loathing at even the thought of parallel parking a car to confine himself to permanent seclusion. 

With a dose of equanimity, a sprinkling of forethought, and a bit of planning, the goal of parallel parking a car on a city street can indeed be achieved.

Parallel parking comes easier to some drivers than it does to others.  For those who find it an almost insurmountable challenge (such as this writer), it is advisable to practice on a street that is not too busy before attacking the job in a real city.   A nice, tree-lined rural or suburban avenue during a quiet time of day is a great choice to begin learning this skill.

The first step is to ascertain whether or not the parking spot in question is large enough for the vehicle to be parked.  In general, a space about 4 to 6 feet longer than the car to be parked will be necessary.  Once the spot is chosen, all distractions to the driver should be eliminated.  The cell phone, radio, and CD player should be turned off, and any noisy passengers should be quieted or asked to exit the vehicle and wait on the sidewalk. 

The turning signal should be used to signal a right turn.  The car should be pulled up alongside the front car of the parking space, about a foot or two from that car.  The car’s rear tire should be in line with the rear tire of the front car.  Making sure there is no one behind the driver, he should then turn the steering wheel to the right, toward the curb (if parking on the right side of the street.  If parking on the left side, then everything is reversed.)  The driver must then slowly back up, aiming for the right rear corner of the parking space. 

When the front seat is in line with the rear bumper of the front car, the driver must straighten out the tires by turning the steering wheel one revolution to the left.  Then, backing up the car is continued at this angle just until the right front fender clears the left rear fender of the front car.  Moving slowly and carefully is key here.

Then it’s time to straighten out the car in the parking space.  This is done by turning the steering wheel to the left while backing up, to finish easing into the spot.  Finally, the steering wheel is turned to the right as the car is pulled forward to finish getting it into position in the parking spot.  The car should be about 6 to 8 inches from the curb where it is parked. 

For the driver who demands the highest possible level of precision, Simon Blackburn, a mathematician and professor at the University of London, actually created a formula for parallel parking a car.  It is based upon the Pythagorean theorem, which gives a formula by which one can calculate the length of the side of a right triangle if the length of the other two sides is known.  The Blackburn formula sketches the arc of the car’s turning capability into a circle, then uses the center of the circle to create the right-angle triangles used in the theorem. This is really of little practical use for most drivers learning to parallel park, but it’s interesting, and may help the mathematically-minded.

So, with the mission of parallel parking in the suburbs accomplished, the driver can walk away with an amazing feeling of accomplishment.  But he cannot rest upon his laurels for long.

The next step is to try parallel parking in a real city.

It is always wise to be confident in one’s ability to parallel park before attempting to do it on a crowded city street.  The driver who is trying to parallel park a car is the person who has the right of way, and if the street is busy, the drivers behind him must simply wait.  However, that being said, most experienced drivers are well aware of the characteristics of human nature, including the limitations that often exist on the virtue of patience.  For this reason, it is always wise to not test that patience in the other drivers on the street by executing the act of parallel parking as quickly and efficiently as possible, so as to avoid having to pay for therapy for the post-traumatic stress syndrome caused by the loud obscenities uttered by drivers who must wait through many failed attempts to park the car.

With practice, confidence can be developed in one’s ability to parallel park a car even in the worst of situations.  This confidence is well worth developing if the driver must park often on city streets, and it also comes in handy even for the occasional city driver.  Like typing or other similar psychomotor skills, once parallel parking is learned, it is usually not forgotten.