Stage 2: Parking Lots

Location: Crowded parking lot
Length of Lesson: 30 minutes

Head to a Crowded Parking Lot

You heard us right. This lesson takes place in a crowded shopping center or mall parking lot. Because every driver will spend a considerable amount of time in parking lots, your teen needs to become comfortable driving around in them.

A busy parking lot is a great place for your teen to practice their <space management> skills. Parking lots are usually a flurry of activity, so your teen’s searching and scanning skills will be put to the test. Of course, busy lots are also the source of most dings and dents on your car. So, when you first start practicing, keep your eyes peeled and your mouth moving so your teen doesn’t break the bank with body shop repairs.

Practice Exercises


Simply head over to a shopping center or mall parking lot and cruise the lanes. Remember:

  • Drive down the center of each lane. Obviously, if there is an oncoming car, return to the right side of the lane. The reason for driving down the center is so that you’re equally positioned to enter a parking spot on either side of the lane. This also means you’re equidistant from cars backing (blindly) out of their spaces.
  • Use cover braking. You never know when a small child is going to run out in the middle of a lane from behind parked cars. Also, parked cars may suddenly back out of a spot. Since their line of sight is so limited, they may not see you coming down the lane. You must be ready to brake in a moment’s notice.
  • Use those turn signals. We know from experience that many drivers believe that common courtesy and right-of-way rules don’t apply in parking lots — or at least that those rules don’t apply to them. However, that doesn’t mean you should check your manners at the entrance to the lot. Other drivers and pedestrians appreciate knowing what you’re going to do. You should use your indicators when:
    • Turning down a new lane.
    • You’ve found a parking spot. You should always do this when you’re stopped and waiting for a car to exit a space. This will alert other drivers that you’re waiting for a space. If the lot is busy and spots are scarce, this is also a way to “claim” the space.

Let’s Park

Hey, you’re in a parking lot. You might as well practice parking.

Start with front-entry parking:

  • Pull forward into spots and come to a complete stop. Make sure to straighten the wheels in order to make backing up easier. Put the car in park and set the parking brake. Remember to use your brake pedal for nearly all of your speed control.
  • When ready, back out of the space. Point out to your teen who much their view is obstructed when reversing out of a space. It is especially difficult for them to see when they are completely surrounded by other parked cars. Your teen should be on the lookout for cars driving down the lane. They should also be on the lookout for pedestrians who tend to walk (blindly) directly behind cars.

Now move on to rear-entry parking:

  • Identify a parking spot and come to a stop before it. Activate your turn signal so that nearby cars know that you’re about to turn into a space.
    • Side note: Many drivers have a tendency to stop ahead of the target space and then back into the spot. While there’s nothing technically “wrong” with this approach, it presents a potentially annoying situation. Cars behind you may not realize you’re going to park into your target spot (especially since you’ve driven past it). Therefore, they may not give you the room you’ll need in order to reverse into the spot. By stopping before the target spot and putting on your signal, other cars should give you the necessary room.
  • Reverse into the spot, come to a stop, and straighten the wheels. Put the car in Park and set the parking brake.
  • When exiting the parking spot, point out to your teen how much easier it is to see their surroundings.

Reversing into parking spots is always the preferred way of parking. It makes pulling out much easier and safer.

Parking Lot Etiquette

Speed Limits

The speed limit in parking lots varies depending on the municipality that you’re in. For example, in California, it’s 10mph. In a condominium development in Missouri, the posted speed limit in their parking lot is 17mph (which is pretty obnoxious, don’t you think?). Obviously, if a speed limit is posted, follow that. Otherwise, drive at 15mph or less, depending upon the conditions.

Following Pedestrians to their Cars

Just because parking spots are scarce, it doesn’t mean that you should track down people who are walking to their cars like you’re on safari. If possible, roll down your window and ask them if they’re leaving. A little common courtesy can go a long way. Remember, you can collect more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Walking to your car

Walk down the center of the lane! Don’t walk directly behind cars as this makes you very hard to see.

If you are being followed by a car, be courteous and try to indicate to them where you’re parked.

Continue on to Emergency Braking

All information and advice contained within this website is to be taken at your own risk. Nothing contained within this website should be misconstrued as professional driving instruction.