By Autumn Cafiero Giusti
Proving that you can parallel park on a driving test has long been considered a rite of passage for new drivers who want to obtain a license.
But these days, the number of states that test people’s parallel parking skills is shrinking, and some driver’s education experts worry that the maneuver could become a lost skill.
Over the summer, the state of Maryland pulled the parallel parking requirement from its driving test, becoming the 16th state that does not test drivers on the skill.
It’s unknown whether more states plan to follow suit. But in Maryland, state officials dropped the requirement after concluding that the driving exam was already testing a similar set of skills.
“We determined that some of the skills we were testing for were redundant,” says Buel Young, spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. “We looked at parallel parking, and then we looked at the reverse two-point turn. We were testing the exact same skill sets in each maneuver. It was determined we would remove one of those, and the one we removed was parallel parking.”
But knowing how to back into a parking spot – the skill known as the reverse two-point turn – isn’t the same as knowing how to parallel park, says Tom Pecoraro, president and founder of iDriveSmart, a chain of drivers education schools taught entirely by active, retired and former police officers.
“Parallel parking is a much more difficult skill,” he says. “It’s an excellent way to test the ability of a new driver being able to manage their vehicle. And they’ve just taken it right out of the test.”
Pecoraro says part of the reason for the change on the Maryland test is partly because there was a high fail rate. “The MVA knew it was the most difficult part of the test, so they took it out,” he says.
At the same time, the state expanded the test by adding a road portion. This created scheduling bottlenecks because the test was longer, even though the number of time slots to take it remained the same. People were having to schedule their tests two to three months in advance, and even six months ahead during busy seasons. “If you waited all that time and were a new driver who failed the test, you were going to be pretty upset,” Pecoraro says.
Sixteen states opt out
With the addition of Maryland, nearly one-third of the states in the union exclude parallel parking from their driving tests. In some of these states, parallel parking went away two or three decades ago, reportedly because of a lack of resources or because they didn’t have very many parallel parking spaces to begin with. A Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman recently told the Tampa Tribune that Florida dropped the parallel parking requirement 25 years ago because so few areas in the state had a need for it.
In more rural states like Arkansas and Oregon, the parallel parking requirement doesn’t exist because their cities and communities are not as dense as in places like New York or Boston.
Arkansas is more concerned about how drivers handle a car on a road test, and whether they know how to change lanes, drive through urban areas and turn properly, says Monty Pride, drivers license and commercial drivers license coordinator for the state of Arkansas.
“There are very limited places that require parallel parking. So it’s just something we didn’t think we needed,” he says. “It’s never been a priority as far as something people must know.”
The requirement doesn't exist in Oregon, either, and apparently it never did, says David House, spokesman for the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division.
Instead of asking drivers to parallel park on its exam, the state of Oregon has always had drivers instead demonstrate a somewhat unconventional maneuver: Drivers are asked to pull up to a curb, stop, back up about two car lengths, stop, signal and then leave.
“The institutional knowledge here says that’s a very, very old testing method that’s always been around,” House says. “It’s the closest equivalent to the skill of parallel parking on the test, and as far as we know it’s been around many decades.”
House says that parallel parking has never really been much of a concern for the mostly rural state. Oregon’s driving division has about 60 field offices, and only about a dozen are in urban areas. “I’ve never heard of any legislator saying, ‘Hey, we should do parallel parking on the driving test,’” House says.
Surprisingly, Oregon traffic engineers conducted studies prior to the 1980s and again in the 1990s that found that urban areas with angle parking had crash rates that were 50% to 70% higher than comparable sections with parallel parking, although the studies did not account for varying levels of parking activity. Based on the review of those studies, the Oregon Department of Transportation concluded in a 2001 report that “parallel parking is preferable to angle parking whenever possible.”
Peter Crosa, president-elect of the National Association of Independent Insurance Adjusters, suspects that some states might be moving away from parallel parking because it’s an inefficient use of curb space. Parking lengthwise along a curb takes up more parking spots than parking along a curb at an angle.
That kind of parking is in place in places with wider streets like St. Petersburg, Fla., where Crosa lives. Florida’s cities and communities have ample space to spread out and make room for parking lots. “You’ll find more vertical parking here than parallel parking because it’s an inefficient use of curb space,” he says.
Crosa believes that people who don’t know how to parallel park simply won’t do it.
“I think it’s a mistake not to include that in drivers education because it’s a skill that will be totally forgotten, and people will forget it if they’ve had no instruction,” he says.
A need for parking skills?
While not as dangerous as highway driving, parking is not without hazard. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 2,517 non-occupants killed and 52,000 injured by backing vehicles between 2008 and 2011.
While people’s overall driving skills probably won’t diminish without parallel parking instruction, Crosa says that parking will pose a challenge for them.
“I think fender benders will increase if they attempt to parallel park, because they have no instruction in that area,” he says.
It’s still too early to know whether changes in testing requirements are affecting insurance premiums, says Dr. Robert Hoyt, Dudley L. Moore Jr. Chair of Insurance at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.
However, most insurers provide a discount for new drivers who complete a driver-training course. While parallel parking might be less common, learning to do this takes a certain amount of skill that correlates with a higher level of capability in operating a vehicle, he says.
“My expectation is that not having to master this skill may mean that new drivers in those states that don’t require this may end up generating more claim costs,” he says.
In Maryland, Pecoraro says his driving school has actually received phone calls from parents who are upset that their children won’t be tested on parallel parking, and that some members of the community believe that the state is dumbing down the test.
“A few people said to me that they felt it made student drivers a little more lazy,” he says. “They’re not going to take the test as seriously because the state has made it that much easier.”
To Pecoraro’s surprise, there has been greater interest since the testing change in iDriveSmart’s Drivers Test Support program, which features a controlled driving course to recreate the driving test. “We thought, ‘I guess people won’t want to come do this anymore.’ We’ve seen an increase,” he says.
The course is designed to teach drivers how to manage the space of the vehicle, maneuver and multitask. “You’ve got to start them on those tasks and low skills,” Pecoraro says. “These become the building blocks they’ll use later on to travel greater distances, on the beltway or the highway.”
Just because parallel parking is no longer a part of Maryland’s driving exam doesn’t mean that people won’t have to learn how to do it, Young says.
“Driver’s ed is a state curriculum in Maryland,” he says. “They’re still required to learn how to parallel park because the skills you learn in parallel parking are the same skills you learn in driving.”
States where parallel parking isn’t on the driving test
Source: USA Today