Picture this scenario.
It’s Friday night and Mr. Suburbia is driving downtown to the big city with Judy on a first date to catch a 7PM off-Broadway performance of Guys and Dolls. He’s running a bit late.
“I hope I can find a parking spot near the theater or else we’ll miss the start of the show,” he thinks to himself.
He drives by the performing arts center desperately scanning for an empty parking space. He spots one next to the curb right in front of the theater. But to Mr. Suburbia’s dismay, it’s nestled between two other cars.
“Oh, sweet baby Frank Sinatra on a stick…I’ll have to parallel park,” Mr. Suburbia thinks.
His palms get sweaty. Mr. Suburbia knows he stinks at parallel parking. It just isn’t something he has to do out in the suburbs with its vast expanses of near-empty parking lots.
Mr. Suburbia has a choice. Attempt to parallel park and risk being the guy that holds up traffic for 20 minutes while trying over and over again to back into the spot, consequently embarrassing Judy, or drive around a few more blocks hoping to find a spot that he can handle pulling into. Either way, he and Judy will be late for the show.
Mr. Suburbia keeps driving.
I’ll admit it. I’m Mr. Suburbia. I suck at parallel parking. I just don’t need to do it here in the Tulsa suburbs. I didn’t even have to do it in order to get my license when I was 16–the Oklahoma DMV removed it as a requirement before I took the test (it was recently brought back).
But it’s quite a useful skill in a pinch. Whenever I head downtown I usually need to parallel park and my lack of practice is quickly made apparent.
After a cringe-worthy attempt at parallel parking the other day, I decided it was time I brush up on this essential driving skill. So I pinged my former driver’s ed teacher, Scott Merkley at Merkley’s Driving School to give me a quick refresher.
How to Parallel Park
Note: The steps below are for parking on the right side of the street. Reverse them for a space on the left.
1. Signal a right turn and drive up next to the car in front of your parking space so that you’re evenly lined up with that car, with 2-4 feet between the cars.
2. Put the car in reverse and slowly drive backwards until your rear bumper passes the rear bumper of the car in front of your space.
3. When you reach this point, turn the steering wheel all the way to the right. Continue slowly rolling in reverse. Aim the rear of your car towards the right rear corner of your space.
4. When your car gets to a 45 degree angle in relation to the car in front of you, turn the steering wheel one revolution to the left to straighten the tires. Continue backing up at this angle until your right front bumper just clears the left rear bumper of the front car.
5. Quickly turn the wheel all the way to left and roll backwards until you are behind the vehicle.
6. Straighten the wheel and center the car. Put the car in park.
7. Don’t forget to pay the parking meter. Do a little jig.
Scott suggests finding parallel parking spaces without any adjacent cars nearby in order to practice. If you can’t find any empty parallel parking spaces, make your own in an empty parking lot.
“With 10 minutes of practice, anybody can master parallel parking,” says Scott. There’s hope for Mr. Suburbia’s everywhere.
Are you a master parallel parker or does having to parallel park make your palms get sweaty? Did you have to parallel park to get your driver’s license? Share your parallel parking stories with us in the comments.
Illustration by Ted Slampyak. Copyright McKay & Slampyak
Last updated: January 22, 2016