Road Rules: Backing out of angled parking


Question: Backing out of angled parking is tricky. Without the aid of backup cameras (or even with them), if the person backing up is hit by oncoming traffic, who would be at fault? This assumes oncoming traffic is not speeding, texting or otherwise doing something that could contribute to the crash.

Answer: Before we get to the “Whose fault is it” part, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that most angled parking has a fundamentally flawed design. Pulling into a parking spot is easy, but the problem becomes apparent when it’s time to leave. Depending on who parked next to you, you might need to back half your vehicle out of the parking spot and into the lane of travel before you can see if there’s another car coming. At the risk of stating the obvious, that’s a bad thing. The problem is that when backing out of an angled parking stall, the driver is positioned at the wrong end and wrong side of the vehicle to see oncoming traffic. 

There are better options. Some communities have swapped out the traditional angle parking for back-in angle parking, which is just what it sounds like. The parking stripes are reversed compared to what you’re used to; the driver pulls past the parking spot and backs in. When it’s time to go, the driver can look out their side window rather than through their car to see oncoming traffic, and they’re positioned so that they can see the traffic before they pull into the travel lane.

Back-in angled parking isn’t perfect. If you decide to park in a back-in angled spot, but the car behind you is following too close, they might block you from backing into the parking space. Compare the options though, and it’s a choice between inconvenience (not being able to back into your spot) and hazard (not being able to see as you back into traffic.) If given the choice between two less-than-perfect options (a situation life often presents), I’ll go for the one that is least likely to cause harm.

I’m less about finding fault and more about working together to make driving safer. But if there’s a crash, someone’s insurance company is going to be finding fault, and they’ll be basing it on both the specifics of the crash and on relevant laws. The law prohibits backing up a vehicle unless, “such movement can be made with safety and without interfering with other traffic.” If backing out of a parking stall results in a crash, it’s pretty clear that it was both unsafe and interfered with traffic. 

The question mentioned speeding, texting or otherwise doing something that could contribute to the crash, but there’s also the things a driver fails to do. Respecting the speed limit and leaving your phone alone are bare minimum requirements for driving. The law actually says that compliance with speed requirements isn’t enough. It expects drivers to use “due care and caution” to avoid a crash. A good driver continuously scans for potential hazards, including cars backing up into the roadway, so there’s some responsibility for the driver on the road too. 

Each crash is unique, but they often have similarities. I won’t predict fault in a hypothetical crash, but in general the backing driver most likely will bear the primary responsibility. The goal though, is to avoid a crash altogether. If you’re the driver on the road, that might include allowing a driver backing out of an angled parking spot the room to get out, even if it means giving up your right-of-way and a few seconds of your day.

Doug Dahl is a manager with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Region 11 and publishes


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