There’s no question that sparks as much debate among my readers as the issue of how to merge when a lane ends, but I think I’ve found a close second: Should drivers back into parking spaces?

One traveler’s comment describing the practice as irrational and inconsiderate during an online discussion March 21 prompted numerous messages of support and rebuttal.

Those who supported backing in said it was a matter of safety: “Have you ever tried to back out of a space when flanked by humungous SUVs with blacked-out windows?”

A defense that wasn’t published during the chat but that had some merit was: “I do it all the time. Just in case something is wrong with my engine, I can always call someone to come fix it right there on the spot instead of having to call the tow-truck company to come and pull my car out of the parking space first. In fact, it happened to me a month ago. . . . If my car was parked the other way around, it would have complicated things.”

My view is that the practice should depend on the scenario. For example, if a back-in parker is holding up a line of cars as morning commuters arrive at a Metro garage, that’s unfair and should be avoided. On the other hand, if the driver is one of the first at the mall Saturday morning, but knows traffic will be heavy later, why shouldn’t that driver back in?


After the chat, other travelers wanted to continue the conversation.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I do not understand why some people get so angry over people who back into parking spaces. If a scientific study were done, I truly believe that it would find that backing into a parking space and pulling out frontward, vs. pulling into a parking space frontward and then backing out, would take the same amount of time.

When people are waiting for someone to back out and leave, do they still get as angry about it as they do when they are waiting for people to back into a space?

I do it both ways. If I am going to a function and people will arrive at different times but leave at the same time, then I believe it is better to back into a parking space so that I can get out quicker. I also agree with the folks who say that they can’t see around the giant vehicles people like to drive now and that it is safer to back in.

Truly, in the greater scheme of what is going on in the world, this really is inconsequential.

Rebecca Hotop, Fairfax Station

DG: That’s a pretty good argument. But is the matter “inconsequential”? It’s certainly of low magnitude in the scheme of world events, but we’re in these traffic situations every day. They can put a commuter in a bad mood for the day, or on the more serious side, they can lead to crashes and injuries.

This writer has a good alternative, with safety in mind.


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Backing out from between two sport-utility vehicles: yes, slowly. But I also use my four-way flashers, especially at night and in garages. It seems to help alert other drivers as to what I’m doing.

Terence Kuch, Falls Church

Here’s a caution about the face-forward departure.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

There is a substantial downside. When you pull out, you pull out much faster, and there are no backup lights or brake lights to warn people.

Kit Hope, Silver Spring

DG: The discussion encompassed various forms of back-in parking, including perpendicular and angled parking, garage and street parking. Some drivers who do just fine on the street treat a parking lot like it’s the O.K. Corral, so it’s best for the rest of us to increase our chances of seeing and being seen.

Use your headlights and turn signals in parking areas. Take the same precautions against distracted driving — stay off the cellphone — that you would on the street. Before you get back into your car, take a moment to check the environment: Will the vehicles on either side limit your view when backing up? Are you parked near the end of an aisle, where vehicles may turn quickly into your path? Are there pedestrians nearby?

Some travelers wrote in to defend the practice of backing into angled parking spaces on streets. But angled spaces come in two kinds. I hate those angled spaces in Old Town Manassas, where the space faces the direction of traffic, and the natural maneuver is to pull in front-forward to the curb.

I much prefer the style of space angled away from the direction of traffic, so that the natural maneuver is to pull forward, then back into the space. You see that style on Eighth Street SE in the District near the Marine Barracks. It’s an easier maneuver than parallel parking. Advocates for that style note that a driver who has backed into such a space has a much better view of traffic when pulling out, even if there’s a big old SUV with tinted glass parked right beside.