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THE AMATEUR PARKER Danger in Reverse

Someone backed into my new-ish car last month. I was parallel-parked near the tennis courts, where my friend

humiliates me every Tuesday. We had finished our sets and stood on the sidewalk chatting about my inconsistent serve, OK, truthfully, we were talking about her new grandson, when I heard a loud crash that I immediately recognized as two vehicles coming into contact at some speed. A second later, it dawned on me that mine was one of the

two. I ran to my car. A woman in a Nissan Armada had reversed right into my Toyota. She pulled forward, jumped out of her car, began to apologize in earnest, and then explained that she was having a really bad day.

I managed not to swear or share, in detail, the impact her bad day was having on mine. She said her foot got stuck, but it’s my opinion she mistakenly thought she was in drive and stepped on the gas – hard. Her trailer hitch went clean through my bumper. We exchanged insurance numbers, and I went home and began the long and aggravating process of dealing with her insurance company, my insurance company, the collision repair center and the car rental agency. My car’s all fixed now, and statistically speaking, if that’s

my accident for this decade, well, terrific. There are many worse things that can happen on the road than a banged-up bumper. I have been worried about damaging this car since I bought it last summer. I thought maybe having my apprehension turned to reality would dissipate my irrational level of concern. Sadly, I’m just as jumpy as ever. Yesterday, I was loading my

shopping bags and my 5-year-old into my car at Target when I heard tires my

screeching in our general vicinity. It was so loud

daughter jumped into my arms, and I ducked over both of us. Some crazy woman in

a Land Cruiser was taking the tight corners of the lot at about 25 mph. She must have been in a real rush to buy toilet paper, or something. I put “burning rubber” on the list of things I don’t want to hear in a parking lot. (One of the others is the impotent click of a lifeless battery.) Many years ago, I received some great advice on trying to avoid car accidents. An acquaintance, who was apparently more paranoid and obsessive


than I, told me she had spoken with her insurance company and asked what she and her husband and children could do to be the safest drivers possible. These are the three safe driver rules she shared with me:

Melissa Bean Sterzick

I put “burning rubber” on the list of things I don’t want to hear in a parking lot.

1. Never be the first into an intersection. If you are at the head of the line at a red light, always let the driver at the head of the line going the opposite direction get to the middle of the intersection first. If you are at a red light on a two-lane road, let the person next to you beat you out of the gate. This saves you from meeting the metal with the red- light-runner or untimely-left-turner who might be in the intersection right around the same time you get there. I explained this rule to a newly licensed teenage driver I know and he said, “So, basically, let the other guy take the hit.” And I said, “Yes.” 2. Never make an unprotected left turn. This rule is serious business, if you decide to follow it, because you must spend inordinate amounts of time figuring out how to reach your destination making only

right-hand turns. Still, unprotected left-hand turns are risky, so the rule makes sense. We all get impatient, some of us have vision issues, and many, on occasion, misjudge the speed of oncoming traffic and squeeze in those left-hand turns with mere feet to spare. The worst part about these inadvisable and overconfident maneuvers is that the driver is the one who’s stupid and the passenger is the one who takes a moving vehicle to the ribs. I shared this rule with my teenage friend and he said, with a 16-year-old’s disregard for mortality: “That’s crazy. No way is that possible.” 3. Never drive in reverse. This is the one that applies to parking. It’s also the one I break most often, because the other two are easier to follow in moderation. What I just can’t finagle is a day without using reverse in parking lots. Every lot is different – some with stalls lined up on a diagonal, some with curbs, some with planters – it’s impossible to find a spot that lets me roll in and roll out without using reverse. So I am careful, check my blind spots, note the taillights of every car I can see behind me, look both ways, and then just back out on a wing and a prayer. I can’t predict the people who stroll into my path without checking; and I can’t prepare for fellow parkers who don’t even look over their shoulders when they move out. I just do my best.

I tried to share this last rule with my young driving protégé,

but after the first two rules, he got bored and started texting his friends, so he didn’t hear me.

Melissa Bean Sterzick is an Amateur Parker and PT’s proofreader. She can be reached at

PT Parking Today

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