Reversing reverse parking (update)

Back in 2013, I gave a rare nod of praise to the Newman government for a proposal to get rid of reverse parallel parking in the test for new drivers. I’m happy to say that this has actually happened. The new test will focus on safe driving, rather than on skills that might come in handy for drivers, like reverse parking or changing the oil.

The original post is over the fold

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.

42 thoughts on “Reversing reverse parking (update)

  1. I sort-of agree Prof Q – it took me about three tries to get my license back in 1967 for exactly that reason.

    However, an ability to reverse park is also an indication of driving precision, which _is_ important.

  2. It seems that every week or so, somewhere in Australia a child is run over by a reversing vehicle – usually in the drive of their home, by one of their parents and often driving a larger vehicle.

    In my opinion, the ability to safely reverse should be taught and tested. I see it as part of the safe operation of a motor vehicle.

  3. At last, a serious topic :-^

    I’m pretty sure everyone failed at parallel parking the first few (dozen) times.
    Then my grandfather showed me “the trick” and instead I failed my first test by bunny hopping at a stop sign instead.

    I’m perfectly comfortable with both clutch control and parallel parking these days, but I note that here in Victoria you can get an “automatic” license that means you can’t drive a manual (until you’re off your P’s anyway)

    Personally I think that if you can’t master mirrors, spatial awareness and reversing and turning while at low speed then maybe you shouldn’t be driving any faster.

    With my bicycle helmet on, I emphasise the spatial awareness and mirrors bit…

  4. Ever since I failed my first driving test on this score 40 years ago, I’ve regarded it as a piece of utter stupidity.

    Hmmmm. This extract from your original article does suggest that maybe this is just a not so magnificent obsession that has been eating you up for decades (though I admit I remember my failed first attempt – essentially for going too slow in narrow windy streets).

    In country towns such as Queensland this change probably wont have any bad impacts. But in rapidly gentrifying/high density Sydney reverse parking is an excellent broadbrush test of safe driving in actuality. Does the driver look for these spots safely? Do they race a competitor and start an argument about parking space property rights? Do they park safely when they find one? Do they do these tasks courteously and only take a small spot thereby reducing the likelihood of road rage on the part of people such as myself who are unable to park outside their own house, an inalienable right recently questioned by the local council planner who withdrew this right unilaterally (typical government freedom infringing bureaucrat). This matter is clearly approaching arguments about who pays for back fence repairs in importance. So it is sad to see you trivializing it.

    Maybe it would be better keep this blog in the future focused on easier to satisfy less controversial matters – like the Pope’s encyclical wishlist –

  5. @Megan

    If you’re reversing in a driveway, you’re not parallel parking. It’s a different skill.

    Probably more important than either is learning to be aware of the dangers of selective attention (www dot theinvisiblegorilla dot com), although I’m not sure it’s possible to test for this.

  6. Where’s the statistics linking ability to parallel park in a driver’s test to subsequent crashes?

    The link above is dead.

  7. This sounds like a modern “Fox and the grapes” story John. Perhaps you should lobby to get reverse gear removed from cars and solve your problem completely or you could actually, you know, learn to drive. A six year old can get a car in motion. I rather prefer road users to have some skills at maneuvering their vehicle.

  8. I am not the only one who wonders why wheels do not turn sideways?

    Himanshu Bansal also sees the problem and posted on August 24, 2013

    “It gives immense pleasure when a person rides a car and goes on a smooth nice highway. On the other hand, the same person gets frustrated when he has to make sharp maneuvers to parallel park his car in closely packed parking spot with front and rear car taking a portion of his parking space. I suggest a feature in cars that may alleviate the pain.”

    “Easy Parallel Parking – Car Goes Sideways, Wheels Turn 90 degrees”

  9. Wouldn’t it be simpler to use the network of safety cameras to just take the worst 1% of drivers off the road every year? Pick a number (1% of licensed drivers), keep score somehow (points on license, maybe), the worst X number lose their licenses.

    Let’s be kind, they can apply and re-sit for a new license after, say, 10 years.

  10. I can parallel park, up a steep hill, in a manual three-on-the-tree. No power steering, needless to say.

    So there.

  11. However, an ability to reverse park is also an indication of driving precision, which _is_ important.

    I don’t have a link, but I’ve seen data indicating that drivers who have completed precision driving courses are more likely to have crashes than others. The opposite is true for those who have completed defensive driving courses.

    And, as with most things, there’s a gender angle. When I was young, a long time ago, it was generally the case that men had more “precision” skills than women, and abuse of “women drivers” was a standard trope. It only faded away when people started looking seriously at the accident stats and found that, after adjusting for every possible factor, men had far worse crash records than women.

  12. @John Quiggin
    I think there’s still a fair bit of abuse, or at least diparagement, of women’s driving skills, even though statistically they are safer drivers. (I hear it from the young blokes at work.)

    I hadn’t seen the stats for precision drivers, though – misplaced overconfidence?

  13. I can reverse parallel park. However, I’ve never actually passed a driving test. I feel this puts me in a unique position to comment upon the removal of reverse parallel parking assessment. But I won’t.

  14. @David Irving (no relation)

    I think there’s still a fair bit of abuse, or at least diparagement, of women’s driving skills, even though statistically they are safer drivers. (I hear it from the young blokes at work.)

    I hadn’t seen the stats for precision drivers, though – misplaced overconfidence?

    Whereas Volvo drivers – Christ, don’t get me started…

  15. At least for me, being able to do it depends on how familiar I am with the car too — At least for me, I have no problem parking my own car, but still constantly stuff it up with my partner’s car. Thus, one of the main beneficiaries of the test is probably the driving instructors whose cars you need to pay to get used to.

  16. You can remember things from 40 years ago, John ?

    What brands of wine have you been drinking ?

  17. @Ronald Brak
    Never done a driving test? [whistles] You most be old. They introduced it in SA a couple of years before I got my license.

    One of the things that terrified me about my mum is that, although she was a woman, she was actually a crap driver, and at one time in her life she could have driven anything from a motor cycle to a semi-trailer on a license for which she had never done a driving test.

  18. It seems obvious that most if not all road accidents, particularly those involving morbidity and mortality, were committed by those who could demonstrate the ability to reverse park.

  19. When I did the driver’s test, it was by log book—mercifully. It allowed me to learn the skill, then to demonstrate it a few times to the satisfaction of the supervising examiner, and to get on with the next item. Reverse parallel parking is a technical skill which involves having some situational awareness of how the car moves on a turn, etc; however, in SA, we simply didn’t have that tested, thankfully.

    I’ve always been of the view that it would be worth funding a short driving course instruction with stuff like braking, skidding, different road conditions, and that kind of thing being tested on a purpose-built track. The purpose isn’t to fail the student, but to provide them with the (first time) experience of the higher risk situations, which aren’t common, but are by no means rare, either.

    Shortly after successfully getting the license, I hit my first truly wet road, after a summer of dry conditions. The grease and the water combined, and I went into a turn at what I thought was a safe and substantially lower than normal speed, only to slide my way in the original direction. Would have been nice to have learned the subtleties of wet and greasy conditions before morning traffic on the way to work! Still, it made me go off and do a lot more practice beyond driving to work and back. It should be part of getting a driver license IMHO though.

  20. I tend to agree with Don at #20. After nearly sixty years of driving I have yet to meet a skid situation – I still worry sometimes that I might not react fast enough to pump my way out!
    My driving licence was obtained at Fortitude Valley Police Station during Show Week, necessitating the tester and I travelling as far as Water Street to find a suitable vacant parking spot for me to park up a hill backwards. When we stopped, he wanted to know why I hadn’t used the handbrake during the operation but rode the clutch and brake with aplomb. I reluctantly had to admit that my father’s Morris Oxford had that handbrake under the dash, and it was very easy to pull it out to a position where I was unable to pull it out further to let it off again.

  21. @David Irving (no relation)
    Speaking of smug bastards, not only can I can rank (parallel park) a delivery van with no rear cameras but have ranked a car and trailer.
    I am very good at reversing. 35 years as an orchardist has given me a lot of practice at going backwards!
    However, while being able to competently rank anything gives me a lot of confidence and satisfaction, I know it is terribly stressful for most people. One of those people is my wife who like most people, will go around the block several times to find an easy double space to ‘drive into’. I have learned to be sympathetic to all those people as I love my wife dearly.
    Perhaps ranking could be kept as part of an instructors curriculum as part of a range of general skills taught but without the stress of being necessary for gaining a license could remove the general fear and aversion created in learner drivers.

  22. @Salient Green

    My mother, 86 now and still driving herself around, learned to drive way back, just after WWII. She says it was American soldiers who taught her when her farming family got a their first truck and someone had to drive the fruit into the Rocklea markets. She was the oldest of 5 girls and their father came back from the war not quite right.

    I remember that she was a great driver; she did at least half of the driving we did, long distances and at in peak hour in inner Brisbane. She just used to snort and look pained when men made jokes about how women can’t drive.

    But we found out how good she was one day – she must have been 30 or 40 – and all the family were driving along those corrugated country roads and she took over. She had learned to drive on gravel and she said, if you drive really fast you don’t feel the bumps.

    And she did drive really fast – no seat belts back then – and we didn’t feel the bumps. We sort of slid around the corners, seeming like we were going to hit the trees sideways but then she would pull out of the slide and the car is sailing over the gravel again.

    It was terrifying – what a bad mother – and then to stop, she did a handbrake slide! Not a complete 180% but pretty good she said for someone out of practice.

    She could reverse park – even a 1970’s Fairlane – is that how you spell it? – and back a trailer anywhere, probably still can.

  23. JQ,

    As is so often the case, the media isn’t necessarily telling you the truth.

    … a proposal to get rid of reverse parallel parking in the test for new drivers. I’m happy to say that this has actually happened.

    Except, it hasn’t actually happened.

    Fortunately, in the new testing procedures: “1 of the manoeuvres must have a reversing component.”

  24. I don’t think how good one is at reverse parking is an indicator of how good one is generally as a driver. Reverse parking is an optional extra. Nobody has to reverse park. Anyway, self-driving cars will soon be able to reverse park themselves. Some can do it now.

    I was good enough at reverse parking once but I don’t use the skill any more so I would be out of practice. I can still reverse trailers well. My wife could never reverse park for nuts yet was and remains an excellent driver with a (slightly) better record than yours truly.

    Anyone else notice that at 60 plus, craning the neck right around gets harder?

    So far as logged hours of driver tuition go, 100 hours is plenty. I noticed my kids became quite competent around the 70 – 80 hours level and this is even with getting bonus hours from formal tuition. Requiring more than 100 hours, if they contemplate that, would be a darned waste of petrol and another cause of global warming.

  25. I’d be ok with giving a little bit more leeway on the test, but definitely not removing it completely. Enjoy the dents and scratches QLD.

  26. @Megan

    “One of the manoeuvres must have a reversing component.”

    That’s fair enough. Probably the abilities to reverse down a lane-way or driveway and to do a three-point turn (Americans call it a K-turn) are more important.

  27. David, I’ve done plenty of driving tests, I’ve just never actually passed one. However, I haven’t let my failure in this area hold me back and I even once taught a person how to drive and so far they’ve only hit one or two things.

  28. Regular driving tests are for wimps. When my son was working in security at the British Embassy in Paris, down the street from the Elysée, he was offered (but did not take up) a place on a driving course run for French ministerial drivers. This went some way beyond standard police courses. It was very expensive, as the fee included the cost of writing off a car driven at full speed through a road block.

    BTW, reverse parking is headed for extinction, like double de-clutching. The latest car models do it automatically.

  29. Queen Elizabeth II’s sole professional qualification dates back to her wartime WAAC service. She held an HGV (truck) driving licence then. Technically she does need one as Sovereign, and any licence she held would have expired at age 70 unless retested. I don’t know if she still reverses horse trailers. Truck driving in the blackout was really quite demanding.

  30. @James Wimberley

    What are you talking about? She is professionally qualified by birth (hereditary title) to be rich and useless, to have a whole rich and useless family and to lecture her subjects in Christmas messages about tackling world poverty.

  31. Julie Thomas ‘ great story reminds me that my father, a British WW2 navy veteran, never drove. Well, I nevrer knew him to drive: I think he got a licence when he came to Australia, and while he had no great psychological scars from the war, my mother used to day he was just a terrible nervous driver who voluntarily gave it up., leaving it up to her to be the family driver. Given that he found the driving in Brisbane of the 50’s too stressful, he must have had a low driving stress threshold!

    I generally don’t enjoy reverse parking (who does?), but there is a special, sort of unexpected, joy when you manage to fluke it first go…

  32. @Steve from brisbane

    Yep that sounds like my mothers father; it seems to me that he wasn’t suffering from PTSD but possibly he is the earliest identifiable ‘aspie’ type person on her side of the family and he simply didn’t want to learn certain things that he didn’t like and so he just refused.

    Mum said he had to drive the truck once and he did but he drove all the way in first gear. I am wincing just thinking of that poor motor.

  33. Salient Green :
    I am very good at reversing. 35 years as an orchardist has given me a lot of practice at going backwards!

    I also learned to drive on a farm, and can back trailers and other things pretty well. At least when I used to drive – living in the inner city it’s a skill like fencing – I know I used to be able to do it, but I suspect that if I had to do it again I’d suck.

    A friend used to have a 6m long bus (converted to camper) that was great for parking because you could see all the bumpers and down both sides of the vehicle in the mirrors. The steering lock was also dramatic. So it was quite possible to parallel park it with less than half a metre plus the actual length of the bus. Which was very handy, since a standard parking space is about 6m long… we could park that thing anywhere.

  34. Reverse parking is an important skill, though not an essential one. In Australia that is. For Europe and Asia, though, grabbing a spot quickly is a vital ability, and this is reflected in their driving tests. Here for instance are young Chinese drivers doing the parking section of their driving test.

  35. For anyone not so good at parking, this will make you feel better about your self (some people can’t even do it frontwards).

  36. @Julie Thomas
    Great story. My grandmother was a widow, and had to do the driving for the household. I remember being concerned—as a young passenger—when we travelled along a stretch of open rural road, doing 60kph, while everyone else was trying to pass us at 100kph! At least we had seatbelts.

    Streuth, I feel heaps better ’bout my driving now.

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