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Parking Lots Are Riskier Than You Think

  • More than 50,000 crashes occur in parking lots and garage structures annually, resulting in 500 or more deaths and more than 60,000 injuries. And, around the holidays, parking lots become even more dangerous.

    Auto insurers report the number of claims spike on Black Friday and run above normal throughout the holiday shopping season. The number of incidents is probably higher than insurance claims indicate, as many fender-benders go unreported.

    So Many Distractions


    Thousands of pedestrians end up with broken bones, tissue damage or even worse because of cell phone or other distractions in parking lots.

    In a National Safety Council public opinion poll, 66% of drivers nationwide said they would make phone calls while driving through parking lots. Respondents also said they would:

    • Program GPS systems (63%)
    • Text (56%)
    • Use social media (52%)
    • Send or receive emails (50%)
    • Take photos or watch videos (49%)

    NSC found teens (59%) were more likely to engage in personal grooming than adults (53%) while driving in parking lots, but less likely to be on the phone (60% vs. 66%).

    During the hectic holiday season, drivers and pedestrians also are likely to be distracted by extensive to-do lists and are hurriedly trying to get from one place to another.

    Stay Alert


    Safety isn't guaranteed just by driving slowly in parking lots. Following are some safety tips for drivers courtesy of the Oswego (IL) Police Department:

    • Stay in lanes and avoid cutting across lots
    • Drive slowly and use directional signals
    • Anticipate the actions of other drivers
    • Obey stop signs and no-parking signs
    • When backing out, be mindful of vehicles and pedestrians
    • Watch for small children and parents with baby strollers

    Tapping into Technology


    NSC analysis of government data indicates more than one-third of pedestrian deaths in parking lots result from backup incidents. Many vehicles today are equipped with backup cameras, which provide a wide view behind a vehicle operating in reverse, but that view may not be clear if the camera lens becomes obstructed.

    Three safety reminders:

    • It's best to conduct a quick, 360-degree walk-around before backing, keeping an eye out for low-lying objects
    • Don't rely completely on technology; look over your shoulder and use your mirrors as you back up
    • When parking, pull through on arrival whenever possible and if it works with the flow of traffic

    Monitoring systems can alert drivers of vehicles in blind spots. Typically, drivers are warned of another vehicle's presence via symbol, sound or vibration. These systems may not detect motorcycles, smaller objects or people, however.

    Other Parking Lot Pitfalls


    Inadequate pavement striping, potholes or cracks, lack of signage, debris, poor lighting, puddles, and snow and ice also can lead to pedestrian injuries. Slips, trips and falls are common in parking lots, and falls in general are the leading cause of death for older adults.

    Choosing the right parking spot can go a long way toward deterring theft and crime. Consumer Reports provides some simple safety rules:

    • Pick spots that are well-lit and close to stores you will be shopping at
    • Lock your doors
    • Store purchases in places that are out of sight (in the trunk or tucked under dark-colored blankets)

    Large parking lots, such as those found at shopping malls, are considered most vulnerable to crime, according to the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center. One way for consumers to steer clear of trouble is to pick a lot where pedestrian traffic is restricted and video surveillance equipment is used to monitor the facility.

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The National Safety Council eliminates preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy.

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