Holiday shoppers prone to mall fender-benders

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 1, 2003

During the busiest shopping days of the year, a mall parking lot could turn into a real-life game of bumper cars if drivers are not extra careful.

According to a release from AAA East Central, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that 20 percent of all collisions resulting in damage claims occur in parking lots.

"People know to be concerned about safety on highways and neighborhood streets, but they forget to be on alert in parking lots," said Terri Rae Anthony, AAA Safety Advisor. "Crashes happen frequently in parking lots and have the potential to be quite dangerous, particularly for pedestrians."

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AAA offered the following tips to help motorists navigate the parking lot and make better, safer decisions to protect their cars and themselves:

4Head for the side door - At the mall, everyone wants to park near the stores, especially near the main entrance. But most malls have secondary entrances on the sides, and those entrances usually have less traffic and more convenient spaces.

4Learn to play the outfield - Outlying areas have more spaces, lighter traffic and a lower risk of collision. In some cases, however, those spaces may not be as secure, so be aware of the risks. Outlying spaces are sometimes a foot narrower than their more convenient counterparts, so using these spaces can mean a dinged door or difficulty pulling in and out.

4See and be seen - Use your headlights when scouring parking garages for spaces - even in the daytime. The light will let other cars see you coming around turns and can make fitting into tight spaces a little easier. Research shows that, even in the daytime, keeping your headlights on reduces your crash risk.

4Don't put yourself in a tight spot - Avoid parking between a pair of tall SUVs or minivans where it might be hard for you to back out of the space. If you can't see well enough to back out safely, get help from one of your passengers.

4Refrain from reverse - If possible, avoid backing out of a space by either backing into it or "pulling through" two spaces that are open nose-to-nose. In some municipalities, however, backing into spaces amidst moving traffic is illegal and, by impeding traffic flow, can do more harm than good.

4Look out for little ones - Children can be hard to see in busy parking lots and often make quick, unpredictable movements. When walking to and from the car, hold their hands to keep them safe from traffic.

4Stay "on track" and alert on foot - Pedestrians should use walkways and crosswalks, if available. If you must walk in traffic lanes, be alert for subtle cues - such as car exhaust or reverse lights - that a car is about to pull out. When behind the wheel, always be on the lookout for pedestrians, especially children.

4Don't let the Grinch steal your gifts - Place packages and shopping bags in the trunk so they are not visible to would-be thieves. It takes a thief just seconds to smash a window and steal your loot.

4Buckle up - Even a low-speed collision can result in injuries. Make sure that everyone is strapped in a seat belt or child seat while the car is in motion, even if it's just a short trip to another part of the parking lot.