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Parking Lot

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Thank you Joni Mitchell! I’ll wager that more than a few of you are already tapping your toes, lip syncing the lyrics, and thinking about where you were when “Big Yellow Taxi” made the scene, right?

What a sneaky way to lead you into my subject which is — parking lots.

Most driver training takes place in the classroom and on streets, highways and freeways. No big revelation there. But there’s a part of my course that happens in places where we all invest a lot of time, but not a lot of attention. Places we don’t think about very much. Parking lots!

I like to call this session my “parking lot pandemonium” lesson. I pick a wild and crazy parking lot and head for front and center where we can watch the action. I rate parking lots on a scale of one to 10. A “one” means not much action, like say Kmart at 7 AM. A “10” means like Walmart in overdrive!

It was a hot summer afternoon about a year ago. The four of us, my three students and me, were headed into one of the busier parking lots in town.

In the backseat were two lads, one named Roy and a kid whose friends call him “Short Stuff,” who had spent most of the last hour poking one another and giggling about who knows what, instead of paying attention. Up front and doing the driving was a young lady of 16 named Becky who had been in my class for about two weeks.

Ever since I asked her to drive, Becky had a white-knuckles grip on the steering wheel and was so focused on the driving task that I’m not sure she knew the rest of us were there. Shortly I was to find out why. Me? I’m comfortably seated in the right front seat where I have easy access to the in-car tools of my trade. My right foot is hovering above my trusty instructor brake and my left hand is poised to grab the wheel when necessary.

Pointing to a nearby open parking space I said, “Becky, please park in that space right there.” She began to maneuver into the spot as I continued my instructions, “Imagine that’s a Lamborghini Veneno there on the left and on the right is a Bugatti Chiron – total value: around $7 million.”

I like to help the kids relax with a little comic relief, but her sharp intake of breath told me she wasn’t amused so I quickly added, “just kidding!”

Once safely parked we shut down the engine, I loosened my seatbelt and turned so I could talk to the kids in back. I was about to speak when Becky, whose gaze was glued to a spot about 30 feet to our right, began to speak.

“You know Mr. Sears,” she said very softly, “when I was 9 years old I was run over and almost killed in this parking lot.”

Her chin trembled as she spoke and her eyes misted. I told her she didn’t need to talk about this if she didn’t want to and suggested we drive back to the office. She shook her head no and continued.

“It was Mom, my baby brother and me,” she went on. “Jimmy was in the cart and my Mom had hold of my hand.”

She paused for a moment, looked at her hands on her lap and a tear spilled down her cheek. Her jaw was set and it was as if she was determined to tell us her story. It hurt to see her pain, but I let her go on. I glanced at the boys in back. They were now wide eyed and motionless.

“Our car was right over there,” she said, indicating a space now occupied by a white pickup. “Mom was just opening the door when the lady hit us!”

Her voice broke. Becky was near losing it but held on. She closed her eyes and said nothing for a full minute. Then, she said, “We were all hurt pretty bad, but Jimmy the worst. He can’t walk anymore.”

We don’t think about it much but parking lots are dangerous places. There are all kinds of ways to injure and even kill people in a place where moving vehicles and preoccupied people on foot are closely interacting. It’s mainly because drivers don’t recognize the dangers and ignore the rules.

Most parking lots have painted lines. Those lines are there to give us a safe path of travel and show us the proper direction for travel. Too many ignore the lines, drive in the wrong direction and sometimes even cross the lines, as was the case with Becky’s story.

When we combine these careless behaviors with too much speed we are a nasty situation looking for a place to happen. A safe and prudent speed in a busy parking lot is five to 10miles per hour. Anything more is reckless.

While we talked it out and gave Becky time to pull herself together, I was as usual keeping my eyes peeled for what I call the PLF’s – “Parking Lot Featherbrains.” Sure enough, here comes a car driving the wrong way . . . wait a minute, that car looks familiar . . . oh no, could that be my wife?

About Robert Sears

Robert Sears is a professional driving instructor who once owned a company that trained more than 70,000 people to drive. Today he is an author working on several non-fiction books and writing traffic safety articles for consumer and special interest publications. He is a 30-year motorhome owner who has logged several hundred thousand miles of RV driving experience.

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