The Truth About Parking Lot Accidents

Parking lots are, at the best of times, a trial for the patience and navigational skills of every driver.

Vehicles are coming in and out, the guy in the vehicle in front of you who’s waiting for another driver to back up so he can poach the spot, as well as shoppers with carts and pedestrians are all potential hazards to avoid.

And that’s at the best of times. We’re approaching the worst of time for driving through a public parking lot: the holiday season. Before you know it, impatient drivers will be trying to navigate their way around plowed snow searching for that elusive parking spot closest to the mall entrance.

It’s estimated that one in five traffic accidents in Canada takes place in parking lots. Fortunately, due to low speed, injuries tend to be minimal, and it’s easier to avoid them in the first place. But collisions still happen. And if one happens to you, it can affect your car insurance rate.

Many people believe that because they happen on private property, or because it’s easier for insurance companies to process, parking lot accidents are a 50-50 split in terms of fault. Those people are wrong. The same fault determination rules apply to accidents in a parking lot as they do to accidents on a roadway, including the penalties for moving violations accrued.

Just as there are rules of the road, there are rules of the parking lot. What your responsibilities are as a driver depend on what kind of lane you’re in, such as:

  • Thoroughfares are lanes that lead to an exit or roadway. Drivers in thoroughfares tend to be moving faster, and thus have the right-of-way over other vehicles
  • Feeder lanes are lanes between parked cars that lead to thoroughfares. Drivers in these lanes must yield to thoroughfare traffic
  • Cars exiting parking lanes must yield to traffic in feeder lanes

Common Parking Lot Accidents

Let’s look at some typical parking lot accident scenarios, and consider how fault for an accident may be assessed:

  • A moving driver hits a legally parked car. This is the most common parking lot accident, because it includes dinging your neighbour’s car while opening your door and similar mishaps. The moving driver will be judged to be at fault.
  • Two cars collide while pulling out of their parking spots. This is often a 50-50 fault split. The exception would be if one car had the last opportunity to avoid the collision.
  • Two vehicles collide while vying for a parking space. Many factors are at play here: Who had the right-of-way? Who was furthest into the parking spot? And who had the last clear chance to avoid the collision?
  • A car hits a moving vehicle while pulling out of a spot. Right-of-way applies; the driver pulling out is at fault.

How to Avoid a Parking Lot Collision

There are many ways to avoid a collision in a parking lot. Some are obvious: pay attention, know the right-of-way rules, and don’t get distracted scanning for a parking spot.

Some aren’t so obvious, like timing your visit for low-traffic times, backing into your spot so you don’t have to reverse while exiting, and not getting sandwiched between two larger vehicles that can block your view.

What if, despite your best efforts, you’ve collided with another vehicle in a parking lot? In this circumstance, what not to do is as important as what to do.

On one hand, tempers could easily flare. Don’t let yours. Recriminations don’t help. On the other hand, do not apologize. There’s a myth that Canadians are so apologetic that saying, “I’m sorry” can’t be construed as an admission of fault. It can.

Don’t just pull away and leave the scene. There are severe penalties for leaving the scene of an accident that could even include jail time. Wait for the other driver to return to his or her vehicle if necessary. If you absolutely can’t remain, leave a note with your driver’s licence number, your plate number, your contact and insurance information so the other driver can follow up. Take photos of the damage to both cars.

Though parking lot accidents tend to be low velocity, the first order of business to make sure no one’s been physically injured. If anyone is seriously injured, call 911.

If someone has been injured, or if damage to both vehicles is more than a certain amount (greater than $2,000 in Ontario), you must file a police report. Your policy may stipulate that you must notify your insurance provider about all accidents, even if an arrangement is made to pay out-of-pocket (which you should not do).

If you can move the vehicles, get them out of the way. Take pictures of the damage and exchange insurance information.

If you are the victim of a parking lot hit-and-run, call the police, then notify your broker. It may be covered by collision coverage (if you have it) or under the uninsured driver provisions in your policy.

How Does a Parking Lot Collision Affect Car Insurance?

Any collision can impact your insurance rates. If you’re found to be at-fault, your premiums may rise, unless you have an accident forgiveness clause. If you don’t have collision coverage and are found at-fault, you may be out-of-pocket for any vehicle or property damage.

Whether you’ve been in a collision or not, do a quick search for the lowest auto insurance premium you can find. In a few clicks, you might find out you can save a bundle.

Source: Dave Webb for insurancehotline.com

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