Reversing reverse parking

It’s safe to say that, little as I expected of the Newman government, the reality has generally been worse. Still, I’m going to give them credit on whenever it seems due, and here’s the first thing they’ve done that I can happily support. Following the recommendations of a study commissioned by the previous Labor government, it’s planned to drop the reverse parking component of the Queensland driving test. Ever since I failed my first driving test on this score 40 years ago, I’ve regarded it as a piece of utter stupidity. Why should anyone else be concerned whether I can reverse park, any more than they should care whether I can change my own oil? If anything, the worse I am at parallel parking, the better for everyone else – not only do I leave more spots for them, but they don’t face the risk of being jammed in a spot by someone who has skilfully parked their car with millimetres to spare.

This seems absolutely obvious. But, to give the contrary view, I turn the mike over to Paul Turner from motoring body RACQ, who manages to ignore the obvious contradictions in his statement.

“What we want is safer drivers, so we think the more it leans to a strengthening of the licensing system, the better,” Mr Turner said.

He said although reverse parking did not carry a high crash risk, it was still a “technical skill” that deserved a place in the driving test.

I’d suggest that a more relevant “technical skill” would be a stiff test in formal logic. That would clear an awful lot of bad drivers off the road.

27 thoughts on “Reversing reverse parking

  1. most people use car parks that do not call for this skill. reverse parking is useful only for street parking.

    a mate’s brother failed his driving test because he ran someone over.

  2. I’ve never understood the mystery – it’s a pretty basic skill. Of course, many cars now do it for you automatically (because it’s so simple). Of course, some people cannot handle the mysteries of a gearbox. My seven year old son has gears and a clutch on his dirtbike however…

    I wonder how long before manual driving is a rare skill, and cars are auto-piloted.

  3. Have to disagree on this. Street parking does require the ability to reverse park efficiently without denting the other cars. Living near a major road I have seen numerous times traffic being held up (causing mayhem at the intersection) because someone is trying to parallel park without success. And it is an assertion that people who can’t parallel park will leave the space for someone else, one that is easily dispelled around schools during drop off or pick up times.

  4. If I recall correctly, I failed my first driving test by failing to indicate one of my turns and for “passing too close” to a parked car. The validity of the former I accepted but not the latter. I suspect if I had passed further out from the parked car I would have been marked down for going over the (unmarked) centre line of the road.

    On the reverse parking issue, I am about average at it as I am average at most driving skills. I used to think it mattered as a skill. I now tend to agree with Prof. J.Q. I don’t think it really matters. My wife avoids reverse parking like the plague as she is hopeless at it. Yet she is a good driver in every other way with a perfect driving record (except for the time a speeding taxi came over a crest and rear-ended her car).

    Although I am average at most driving skills, I am for some strange reason excellent at backing trailers. Why not make backing trailers a part of the test? It would be about as relevant as reverse parking. In Prof. J. Quiggin’s case the statement that he doesn’t bother with reverse parking is testimony not assertion. My wife avoids all reverse parking too. I am sure all intelligent drivers who are not good reverse parkers avoid it.

    I think the best innovation in Learner Driving training has been the 100 hours requirement and the log book. I noticed when my twins were learning that real competence formed up at about 75 to 90 hours (depending on the individual). For this reason, I think any move to take the logged requirement beyond 100 hrs, which is already a lot of driving, is not necessary. In fact, it’s a waste of two limited resources, parental time and petrol.

  5. In Maleny, we have reverse angle parking in the main street. Occasionally, debate rages in the local newspaper about the possibility of change to front-in angle parking.

    Some of us cafe dwellers vote to keep the reverse angle parking as we believe it provides free street entertainment! (I.E. it can be very difficult to master for some people, especially tourists who are not familiar with the required skills.)

  6. I’ve only ever done one really good reverse park in 30 years of driving. Fortunately for me, that was during my driving test. 🙂

    On the other hand, I average less than one reverse park per year. So I have little chance to keep the skill honed…

  7. I learned to drive on a car with no synchro (1927 Chrysler) and took my test on my father’s Morris Major with steering-wheel-mounted gear lever and under-the-dash handbrake. On being asked to park up a New Farm hill backwards, I rode the clutch and footbrake to do the job. The policeman was a bit put-out, but passed me anyway. I wasn’t game to tell him that the handbrake had an annoying habit of sticking “on” when pulled out energetically, and my boyfriend would have to get out and come around to the driver’s door to yank it back in again.

  8. My wife avoids reverse parking like the plague as she is hopeless at it.

    reverse parking is a skill many may use infrequently so they are likely to be poor at it through lack of practice. investing in getting better has little point because it will rust before the skill is used again.

  9. Is anybody actually talking about dropping the reverse parking component of driving tests, apart from the 2012 article linked to in the post, which says it “may” happen?

    It wasn’t an explicit recommendation of the Q-SAFE review, which only said that “there is a need to review the elements in the test to ensure an alignment with crash data”, noting that reverse parking “carries a low fatal or serious injury crash risk”. Likewise, the government’s May 2013 press release talks about “a greater emphasis on high-risk manoeuvres”, but doesn’t mention reverse parking. Ditto for the licensing reform page on the Department of Transport and Main Roads website. Media coverage of the government’s announcement only talks about “less emphasis on reverse parking and more placed on risky manoeuvres” and “moving skill-based items such as the reverse park and hill starts down the priority list in favour of demonstrating high-risk manoeuvres”.

    If it’s simply a matter of changed emphasis, it’s fully in line with the position of the RACQ, which also wants to see “more practical training and testing around the high risk areas such as merging and right hand turns across traffic”, but doesn’t want parallel parking dumped.

    By the way, clicking on the link to the Townsville Bulletin’s website, I’m loving their commitment to reporting on road safety issues, amply displayed by their useful list of related articles under the heading “More V8 Stories”. “Trackside girls sitting pretty” is a particularly well-researched piece.

  10. Do you really leave those spots to others who can parallel park or do you have four or five goes, all the time, holding up traffic?

  11. I’ve never had a problem reverse parking. I’ve successfully reverse-parked a manual station wagon that someone else was using to move house on a slope in Alison Rd Coogee. That said, I can’t imagine how I could teach anyone else to do it. You just know when to turn the wheel in and then reverse … or something. Maybe there’s a gene for it? 😉

    Hubby avoids any kind of reverse parking or even overly competitive carparks and will happily walk and carry things 300 metres or more to avoid the stress. he doesn’t even like reversing and will seek out spots in car parks where you can drive through and exit forward. To each their own …

    I can’t see why reverse parking should be in the driving test when recovering from an uncontrolled oversteer isn’t. Really, nobody needs ever to do one, if they don’t give a fig for their own convenience.

  12. @Fran Barlow
    I don’t have a problem with reverse parking, but I’m on the same page as your other half when it comes to searching for parking spaces – I find walking a few hundred metres far less inconvenient than circling around a carpark looking for a good spot.

    My wife has noted that there does seem to be a gender split when it comes to willingness to search for a convenient parking space. Her theory is that the main culprit is the difference between male and female footwear. That makes sense to me.

  13. @Jason

    Actually, I’ve shifted tense a bit. 40 years ago, I just left the spaces alone. Now I can do a reasonably competent parallel park when I have to.

    But Megan is spot on “I can’t see why reverse parking should be in the driving test when recovering from an uncontrolled oversteer isn’t.”

  14. I disagree.

    Reverse parking is a reasonable proxy for (a) being in control of the car, (b) exercising sound judgement and (c) spatial awareness. My wife failed her driving test last week in part because she flubbed on reverse parking. All in all this is a good thing because she needs more experience re a, b and c.

  15. If people who can’t parallel park never tried, or at least didn’t when it would obstruct traffic I would agree. However, given how often I am forced on my bike into the path of cars to get round someone spending five minutes clogging the bike lane while they try to parallel park I’m not so sure.

  16. The bigger problem with the whole driving test system is that it tests ability, but what matters is the gap between actual and self-estimated ability. Driving is the classic Dunning-Kruger case where everyone thinks of themselves as above average.

    I’d be willing to bet, for males at least, that passing the driving test on the first attempt is positively correlated with involvement in a fatal crash within the first few years of driving. I’ve certainly seen such a correlation cited in relation to people who’ve completed advanced/precision driving courses.

  17. @John Quiggin

    I have to agree on that. I think testers do find ways to fail technically competent but over-confident young men on their first and sometimes second attempts. The psychology is to deflate them a bit, to stop them thinking they are so great. I agree with that approach. From Wikipedia;

    “Svenson (1981) surveyed 161 students in Sweden and the United States, asking them to compare their driving safety and skill to the other people in the experiment. For driving skill, 93% of the US sample and 69% of the Swedish sample put themselves in the top 50% (above the median). For safety, 88% of the US group and 77% of the Swedish sample put themselves in the top 50%.[25]

    McCormick, Walkey and Green (1986) found similar results in their study, asking 178 participants to evaluate their position on eight different dimensions relating to driving skill (examples include the “dangerous-safe” dimension and the “considerate-inconsiderate” dimension). Only a small minority rated themselves as below average (the midpoint of the dimension scale) at any point, and when all eight dimensions were considered together it was found that almost 80% of participants had evaluated themselves as being above the average driver.[26]”

    These days I dont suffer from the illusion that I am a better driver than average in technical ability. However, I believe that what I do do well is drive safely within my limitations and in accordance with conditions. (This is now. I did some stupid things when I was young.) So, while I do not think I am above average in technical ability, I now clearly think I am above average in conforming to conditions and driving to my real ability. Is this just another example of Illusory Superority taking a more subtle, developed form? Possibly not, as my impeccable driving record for the last 35 years is in my favour.

    However, I note now at 59 that my reactions clearly are slowing and my vision is less acute. I hope I am one those people who can be honest with themselves and say (at some time in my seventies I think), “Nope, I am not a good enough driver any more, I am turning in my licence.”

  18. A test in logic should be mandatory; I don’t know how many times a frustrated tailgater roars past me fingers up only to turn right or left further down the road. Since when did observing the speed limit be deserving of such wrath?

  19. @Mel good point on reverse parking as a test of general skills. if so, its presence in the test should be justisfied on that basis.

  20. @John Quiggin

    Credit where credits due, it was Fran who made the very good point about “recovering from an uncontrolled oversteer”.

    Many years ago in Sydney, at least at certain testing places, it was an open secret that doing the test in a private car rather than a ‘Driving School’ car guaranteed first time failure.

    Almost all commercial Driving Instructors were former dept. of transport employees. Failing once or twice was considered to be the price of not having paid for lessons from one of the driving schools.

  21. The rest of Australia knows that Queenslanders can’t drive, its even integrally included in our Strine language, the commission’s recommendation is simply official recognition of that reality.

    It is timely, though, that autonomous vehicles have finally reached maturity. And we now know in which state of Australia they will be most enthusiastically received.

    It does bring up the issue of future driver licensing in an all autonomous vehicle world. Will we be tested on our knowledge of the area, most efficient routes, and GPS data entry? or will we need to know about tyre changing, electric charging cable management, vehicle loading and baggage stowage?

    It is all very interesting, and only time will tell.

  22. @John Quiggin: I think your two comments are in conflict. When I, as a newly licenced driver, did the driving course required of me by my car insurer, they didn’t teach us how to recover vehicle control specifically because they thought that the benefits were outweighed by the cost of having young drivers thinking that they’re now so awesomely awesome that they can engage in risky driving behaviours without crashing. Given that such techniques are often taught in advanced driver training programs, and the evidence you note, they would seem to be right. They focussed instead on showing us our limitations.

    With respect to whether those who pass their driving test on their first attempt are cocky and more dangerous, the Q-SAFE review cites UK evidence that those who take three or more goes to pass may be a greater crash risk than those who pass on their first or second attempt, implying that repeated failure doesn’t seem to engender sufficient humility. Oddly, however, I can’t seem to find a discussion of this result in the paper they cite. Another, very large UK study (Maycock and Forsyth (1997) for anybody interested) found no statistically significant relationship between the number of times a driver took to pass the test and the expected number of accidents per year in the first three years of driving, for both men and women. They did find that, for both men and women, those who made more errors in their driving test subsequently had a higher accident risk, so passing with flying colours rather than scraping through didn’t seem to result in hubris that even made up for (let alone outweighed) differences in abilities.

    According to this literature review (, another study found the opposite relationship between test performance and crash rates for men, supporting the over-confidence theory, but another found no relationship for men and that women who passed both the knowledge and practical tests on the first attempt had lower crash rates than other women. Overall, the evidence doesn’t suggest that driving test success has the same perverse effect that advanced driving courses do. However, the Maycock and Forsyth (1997) study, at least, seems to simply add up accidents, and perhaps the results would change if crash severity were taken into account.

    Of course, offsetting any effects of over-confidence will be the extent to which drivers who take repeated attempts to gain a licence are effectively gaming the system, rather than finally coming up to standard. The more chances you are given to pass the test, the lower the bar is set: passing the test on the first go requires that a random sample of 30 minutes of your driving is good enough to pass the test, while passing the test by the nth go only requires that 1 in n is good enough; eventually even a poor driver will have a good enough day.

  23. Hi everybody, I have risen from the ashes.

    If people cannot pass a simple driving test they should not be on the road. Failure indicates that their driving ability is sub-par and a risk to other drivers.

    Anybody, who cannot do a reverse park should hand in their license; or drive on a private property like a farm where there are no other cars, people, or drivers to worry about.

    Anyway take care on the roads.

    Kind regards,


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