Parking Lot Etiquette

August 8, 2022

There’s more to driving and parking than simply following the rules from the aging drivers’ ed manual you studied before you got your license. Though it is the responsibility of both motorists and pedestrians to drive defensively to avoid the occasional parking lot mishap, the system works best when all of us are courteous and attentive. Whether you’re going to the supermarket or dropping off your car near the airport before a vacation, here are 18 unspoken guidelines to follow in parking lots...for everyone’s sake.

1. Take Care to Park Between the Lines

One of our first childhood lessons is learning to color inside the lines. The same concept applies when we’re getting behind the wheel in adulthood, including parking appropriately inside a parking space. Straighten out your vehicle and park evenly between the lines of your chosen spot. Parking evenly makes getting in and out of your car, loading bags, and avoiding fender benders so much easier for you and your neighbors.

2. Only Use One Spot

It probably goes without saying, but when you park your car, don’t take up more than one spot. This takes up an extra parking space that someone else could potentially use. Even if a lot is empty when you arrive, it doesn’t mean it will stay that way.

3. Avoid Tailgating Fellow Drivers

Finding a parking spot when you are tight on time is always stressful. Still, it is crucial to give drivers a fair amount of space in a parking lot. You can avoid accidents (and stress) by not pulling up too close to another driver that might be pulling out of a spot or on the hunt for one. If you’re not sure about the length of space that is considered a safe distance, leave enough room for another vehicle between you and the car ahead of you.

4. Ensure Your Parked Car is Visible

One of the worst feelings in the world—especially when you’re running late—is thinking that you finally found an open spot in a crowded lot, only to discover another car tucked far inside the space. Drivers of small cars are notorious for hiding while parking. When you park conspicuously, it helps to ensure that your car isn’t accidentally damaged by a distracted or inattentive driver who doesn’t see it right away. Visibility also saves your fellow drivers the disappointment of thinking a spot is free when it’s not.

5. Don’t Block Other Cars

Squishing your car into an inadequately sized and/or makeshift parking spot might be tempting, but consider how much room you and your neighbor might need to open doors and trunks to comfortably load and unload bags and passengers. Leaving enough space ensures that everyone’s cars will stay free from dents and dings. If it doesn’t seem like drivers and passengers can move around freely once you park, find a different spot.

6. Park in a Properly Allocated Spot

Whether a parking spot is earmarked for a disabled driver, electric vehicle, employee, or is completely unencumbered, always park in a spot that’s meant for you. Architects and engineers design parking lots to meet the needs of all kinds of drivers. So, with a little patience, you will find a spot. Park in line with the rules of the road to show respect to your fellow drivers, keep everyone safe, and avoid costly citations.

7. Check Your Mirrors

This suggestion might seem obvious, but do remember to check your mirrors and rear windows before pulling out of a parking spot. Accidents happen when drivers assume a lane or aisle is clear without checking behind them. Make checking your mirrors and your blind spots a habit, so navigating a parking lot is safer for everyone.

8. Mind Your Turn Signals

Always remember to indicate with your turn signal when pulling into a parking spot. Drivers behind you might be looking for spots themselves, and the blinking light will give them the heads up they need to keep a safe distance as you turn into a spot. If your turn signals are temporarily out of order, for any reason, use hand signals. (Sure, they’re antiquated, but they’re useful to know in case of an emergency!)


9. Keep Your Hands on Your Car Only

There’s nothing more annoying than hearing a car’s blaring security alarm droning on endlessly, and many safety systems are triggered by touch alone. Avoid both damaging another driver’s car and driving your fellow drivers crazy with screeching alarms. Mind your hands, carts, and car doors when moving through a lot.

10. Don’t Follow Strangers

We’ve all been there: you find a spot opening up in a busy parking lot during rush hour, or a seasonally busy time of year, and you feel like you’ve won the lottery! As good it might feel to track down a spot, stalking a pedestrian as they walk to their car is not okay. Not only do you make strangers feel unsafe when you creep behind them, but lurking about creates an opportunity for distracted driving that could lead to an accident.

11. Don’t Jump the Front Line

When you pull into a spot, aim straight for the middle. Pulling too far forward into a parking spot could result in taking up two spots unnecessarily. Where there is no barrier, learn to park your car an appropriate distance from the dividing line between rows of parking spaces.

12. Watch for Pedestrians

Always keep your eyes on the road and give folks walking from their cars enough space and time to cross your path safely. Furthermore, remember that just because someone is supposed to use a crosswalk doesn’t mean they’re going to do so. A best practice: drive slow, stay alert, make eye contact with pedestrians, and expect the unexpected at all times.

13. Walk Quickly (and Safely!)

When you’re outside your car, hustle on by, but do it safely. Keep your eyes peeled for drivers who might be distracted while they look for a spot, and be sure not to doddle when a driver waves you across their path. As a rule, try to stay at least a few steps away from vehicles, both parked and moving, to prevent setting off an alarm or getting hit.

14. Take Note of Parking Restrictions

Be sure to check all restrictions on spots and parking lot zones prior to leaving your vehicle. Look for signs and read them carefully. Open space in parking lots is usually open for a reason, be it safety protocol, street sweeping, or passenger unloading. To be clear, a free area does not imply a usable parking spot. Avoid a ticket, or worse, a tow, and mind the signs.

15. No Calling “Dibs”

You can’t call dibs on a parking spot by marking your territory with a person or an object other than your car. If your vehicle is not present, a spot can’t be claimed. Instead, when it’s difficult to find a space, practice patience and wait for one to become available, or consider parking in another nearby parking area.

16. Watch for Fire Hydrants

The easiest way to get your car towed is by parking in front of a fire hydrant or other safety fixture in a lot. Be sure your spot is indeed a parking space before leaving your car. If you’re on the fence about whether a spot is up for grabs, play it safe, and park elsewhere. You just might make it easier for a firefighter to save a life.

Final Thoughts

Parking lots aren’t inherently dangerous, but they do open up the potential for fender benders, road rage, and pedestrian accidents, if they aren’t navigated correctly. Out of respect for your fellow parkers, and to keep yourself safe, follow these unspoken rules of the lot.

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