Bay Parking – Room for error?

The bay park exercise can be one of the most frustrating to teach and to learn.  Getting the car in between the two white lines first time isn’t always easy, especially from a 90 degree angle to the bay, and when there are no other parked cars in the adjacent bays to help guide you.

But does it have to be done this way?  Not at all!


Two common myths among learner drivers (and even some instructors) are that on driving test day:


  •  You have to park from a 90 degree angle
  •  You will fail your driving test if you don’t get the car into the bay in one movement


Many other instructors will have been told the same by their trainers.  Inevitably, this gets passed on to the learner driver.  They too believe they have to carry out the bay park from a 90 degree angle and complete it first time.

The ‘90 degree’ method


The ‘90 degree’ method is often the preferred option by instructors for the following reasons:

  • It can be easier to develop a ‘method’
  • It helps them relate to the reverse around a corner exercise
  • It can encourage the learners to not rely on their mirrors as much.

It can be easier to use reference points from a right angle to the bay, but this relies on the driver starting the manoeuvre from the same distance from the bays, and the width of the bays being the same in each car park.  If these conditions are met, this method regularly results in success.

“So what are the disadvantages?”


Well, the ’90 degree’ method can be inconsistent.  If the driver turns the steering wheel slightly before or after their point-of-turn reference point, if they’re sat a little closer or further away than last time, if they’re in a different car, if they’re sat up straight or slumped a little, stopped a bit closer or further away than last time, if the bays are narrower or wider than last time, then not surprisingly, the manoeuvre will not be as accurate. Due to the angle that the car enters the bay, it’s often only once the vehicle is virtually all the way in that the driver notices they are well over the line.Consistency becomes elusive, parking anxiety can noticeably increase and frustration can set in for both the learner driver and the instructor.  Another disadvantage of the ‘90 degree’ method is that when starting position space is limited, reversing into a parking bay with empty bays on either side can often result in the driver crossing over the nearest line.  Although crossing the line isn’t a problem in this situation, how often do drivers really reverse into an empty area of a car park?


The ’90 degree’ method can also be far more difficult when reversing into a bay with vehicles parked on either side.  The initial starting position would have to be quite wide to reduce the chances of getting too close to the adjacent parked cars.  This might be a problem if lanes are narrow and the front of the car might swing close to cars in the opposite bays.


So this brings us back to the DSA’s motto – ‘Safe Driving For Life’.  By solely teaching the ‘90 degree’ method; Are some instructors truly developing their learners’ real-life parking skills?

Another way…


If you are reading this article as an experienced driver, how would YOU position the car to reverse into a parking bay?


I personally prefer to start the park from a diagonal angle to the bay.  It is much easier to notice errors in position due to the lines being much easier to see from a quick glance in the door mirrors.  And when I don’t feel happy with the position I’m entering the bay, I simply move forward (just enough to adjust my position) and continue parking.  Sometimes I’ll reverse from the left, sometimes the right.  My starting angle will depend on the space that is available to me.  The next time I park will be different from the last.


Allowing the learner driver to explore different options and experience different methods will develop a greater sense of spatial awareness and they will find their preferred method, and find it easier to adapt it where needed.  If they are flexible in their approach, they are much more likely to experience success.


Their options may be:

  • Parking from a 90 degree angle to the bay
  • Parking from a lesser angle (more diagonal) to the bay
  • Parking in a straight line, either because there’s room or using a bay opposite
  • Drive forwards into the bay to park.


Parking in a straight line will probably be the easiest option although this option isn’t always available.  Be aware that although mirrors will become a good aid to help the learner judge their position, awareness of the situation around them is crucial.  Awareness will decrease if the learner focuses too much on the mirrors alone.


Parking from a diagonal angle will inevitably make it harder to use reference points.  The learner will still have to recognise what their starting position ‘looks’ like prior to starting.  How much of the bays they can see, what the starting angle looks/feel like, and whether they can get in the bay they chose.  This is how most drivers do it.  Reference points are much more ‘recognised pictures’.  We recognise when we’re at a good angle and which bay we can get into by how it looks and feels when we start.  With learners, a gradual procession form parking straight, gradually increasing the angle will develop the learner’s spatial awareness.  A diagonal angle can be much easier to tweak than the 90 degree angle start and therefore can have greater flexibility.  It will also enable the learner to see both white lines in the door mirrors much earlier than the 90 degree method.



What if the manoeuvre starts to go pear-shaped?

If our learner driver begins to go ‘wrong’, then we should see it as a valuable learning opportunity to develop problem-solving skills and manoeuvring skills. 


What options are open to the learner?  Can they correct it in reverse?  Would they go over the lines to get in the bay?  Would that matter if there were empty bays to the sides?  What if they were parking between cars?  What other options do they have?  Can they readjust by going forward?  How far forward do they need to go?  What would be the best position to be in before they come back again?  What other options?  Is there a bay opposite that they can drive into and reverse straight back out of into a bay behind?


In the DSA’s DT1 document it states:


The size and layout of the car park may restrict the options available to the candidate. Examiners should allow the candidate to reverse into any bay of their choice and no attempt should be made by the examiner to determine or dictate which bay is used or how the candidate carries out the exercise.


They should be asked to drive out of the bay to the left or right (if both options are available in that car park) and stop with the wheels straight before reversing into any convenient bay and parking the car (examiners should not instruct candidates to park in the centre of the bay). The instruction is to prevent them reversing back, into the bay on the same lock.


Providing some attempt has been made to straighten the front wheels, examiners should not be concerned if the wheels are not completely straight. The candidate may elect to drive forward to adjust the angle at which they address the bay they intend to reverse into, or space permitting, they are allowed to drive forwards into one bay before reversing back in a straight line into the opposing bay.


The DT1 also gives an example of how this manoeuvre can be marked under the box for ‘Control’:


Driving Fault: Re-positioning required to correct a loss of control or accuracy.


Serious Fault: Excessive re-positioning to correct complete misjudgement and /or significant loss of control. Final parking position parking is outside the bay.


Dangerous Fault: Any situation brought about by the above loss of control that resulted in actual danger to the examiner, candidate, the general public or property.


Putting the test aside though, what is important here is that the learner feels confident and competent, no matter how they carry out the manoeuvre.  Even if your test centre doesn’t have a car park, and the bay park would not be required, remember it’s our responsibility to help our learners become proficient safe drivers for life and that includes parking.


Which is why we shouldn’t overlook parking in a bay forwards.  Sometimes, your learner will prefer to do this when they’ve passed – normally when they need easy access to the boot.  What are the added dangers with this method of parking?  Do they recognise the difference in manoeuvrability when parking forwards?  Do they realise that it will be harder to park in a space in between parked cars unless they have room (and its safe) to swing wide prior to entering the bay?  How about exiting the bay?  Do they realise how much more aware of the situation around them they need to be exiting the bay and how blind spots become much more limiting?  Are they comfortable knowing when to start steering as they exit?  Too soon could be disastrous, especially if they are concentrating on what is going on behind them!   I’m sure there’s many more instances where new drivers have crashed, scraped or even hit pedestrians, when reversing in or out of parking bays. BM2D 03/16