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Who Has the Right of Way in a Parking Lot?

  • Parking Tips and Guides
  • Celine Jerly
  • 7 minutes

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Say you are backing out of a parking space, eyes locked on the mirrors to ensure you don’t leave a scratch on the neighboring cars. But then, it hits you – another car coming down the lane you are backing into. So, who’s at fault here – the car that hit you, right? Maybe not, and that’s why you need to know who has the right of way in a parking lot. 

The general rule is that pedestrians have the right of way over vehicles in a parking lot. The primary purpose of a parking lot is to provide off-street spaces where people can park their car and safely make it to a nearby destination on foot – be it a mall, a school, or their workplace. So, it’s not a place to burn rubber.  

Speeding isn’t the only trouble; distracted driving takes the cake when it comes to parking lot accidents. When you are on the phone while looking for a vacant spot in a busy parking lot, there’s a bigger risk of missing obstructions in your path. Poor visibility could play a part in these scenarios, but not always. Sometimes, drivers in parking lots just do not know when to yield 

Also See: 10 types of car parkers you’ll see at every parking lot 

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Who has the right of way in a parking lot? 

Almost always, the pedestrians come first – unless signs instruct them to stop and look before proceeding at any point in the parking lot. That doesn’t mean you can zoom through the lanes expecting pedestrians to take on all the responsibility; ensuring safety goes both ways. The driver may not be at fault if someone jumps out in front of the car without warning. However, if it’s a child, the scales will tip.  

via GIPHY

Once the pedestrians get going, who has the right of way in a parking lot? To find out, you need a clear idea of the general parking lot layout: 

  • Parking Space – an area big enough to accommodate one vehicle, specifically marked out with yellow or white lines on the floor. 
  • Feeder/Parking lanes – the driving lanes that run alongside the rows of parking spaces, allowing drivers to reach a vacant spot or leave the parking area. 
  • Main/Through/Thoroughfare Lane – the driving lane that runs along the parking lot’s perimeter and connects the feeder lanes to the street. 

Who has the right of way in a parking lot after pedestrians depends on where you are and how the traffic flows in the specific lot. Here’s how: 

Who should yield first in a parking lot? 

Be ready to yield the right of way to cars moving down the feeder and through lanes if you leave a parking space. Cars in feeder lanes should yield to those in the main/thoroughfare lane but not those exiting a parking space. Ultimately, pedestrians have the right of way over any vehicle entering or exiting the parking lot.  

However, these are only the general guidelines – parking lots may implement their own rules to maintain the traffic flow. Keep an eye out for signs and follow instructions from parking assistants to maximize everyone’s safety. Some parking lots also paint signage onto the lanes or the parking surface, such as one-way feeder lanes or a lower speed limit near the entrance/exit.  

via GIPHY

Who has the right of way in a parking lot when two cars exit at the same time? 

Both have equal right of way – which means both drivers are at fault if they carelessly back into each other. So, if you see an equally enthusiastic driver backing into the feeder lane at the same time as you, wait it out and make sure it’s safe to proceed. And if the other driver does the same, hopefully, you won’t reach that awkward point where neither of you knows what to do.  

Backing out of a parking space is always risky – try reverse parking instead, and make it easier to leave your spot. You have much less to focus on when pulling out of the parking space and can pay more attention to other cars and pedestrians.  

Also See: Can Steer-by-Wire Enhance Parking Safety?  

What to do when exiting a parking space? 

You should be on high alert when exiting a parking space and turning into a feeder lane. Get ready to yield to any approaching vehicle or people crossing the lane. Slow and steady is the way to go – make sure the coast is clear, and don’t be in a hurry.  

If a car in the feeder lane yields its right of way to you, be courteous and swiftly (but carefully) exit the parking space and proceed towards the through lane or exit gates. Chances are the other car was waiting to occupy the spot you just left vacant – so you are both doing each other a favor.  

via GIPHY

What to do when driving in the feeder/parking lane? 

If you are approaching the main/through lane, get ready to yield to other cars coming that way and pedestrians crossing the lanes. Remember, parked cars (cars exiting a spot) must yield to you – but you may choose to let them have the right of way depending on the situation. For example, if a car is almost out of the parking space, it won’t stall you for more than a few seconds. 

Sometimes, drivers exiting the parking space might have poor visibility due to an obstruction like a pillar or sign board. Distracted driving is also common in parking lots. So, be ready to step on the brakes if a car suddenly backs into your lane. 

Stick to the speed limit – 15 mph is the standard rule in all parking lots, but each facility may implement its own speed limit. In some lots, the posted speed limit may vary in different areas – you might need to drive slower as you approach the gates or in the feeder lanes.  

Also See: Top Tips To Ensure Parking Lot Safety for Your Car 

 

via GIPHY

Why should you back into a parking space?

Cars leaving a parking space have to yield to everyone else – pedestrians, other cars coming down the feeder or main lanes. Additionally, when backing out of a space, you need to be mindful of vehicles parked in neighboring spots. If there any obstructions like pillars in your way, it adds to the stress when you visibility is already limited. You can solve the dilemma by simply taking the time to back into the parking space when you arrive at the lot. Later, when you are leaving, make a quick exit with all your attention focused on other cars and pedestrians in the way. It is easier to yield when driving straight out of a parking spot than backing out of it.

What to do if you if you have a parking lot accident? 

If you are involved in a parking lot accident, make sure everyone’s okay before trying to figure out who’s fault it was and who had the right of way. Secondly, check your vehicle and access the damage. Call 911 if necessary; you may want to inform the police even if there are no visible injuries or damage to the vehicles.  

In most cases or a minor parking lot accident, the authorities take some time to arrive at the scene or may even skip that part and ask you to exchange information with the other driver. However, a police report of the incident comes in handy when filing an insurance claim. You must also document the accident – take pictures of the vehicle damage (both yours and the other car’s), take down contact details of witnesses, etc. It is wise to keep your insurance company in the loop, even if there aren’t any significant damages.  

Also See: Different types of car accidents in parking lots 

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