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Five Parking Tips to Beat the Holiday Shopping Stress

Parking lot

By Julie E. Lee, Vice President & National Director, AARP Driver Safety, Education and Outreach

Although the winter holidays can be some of the most fun-filled times of the year, they can also be extremely stressful—with meals to prepare, houses to decorate and gifts to purchase. On Black Friday and in the weeks that follow, visiting a mall or shopping center can seem like a daunting task due to long lines, shoppers clamoring over sale prices, and crowded and chaotic parking lots.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, it is especially important to be aware of your surroundings in parking lots, as approximately 20 percent of all car accidents occur in them. While these accidents are typically minor and are less likely to result in serious injuries or fatalities, they can damage your car and—if you’re at fault—may raise your insurance premiums.

Here are five tips from AARP Driver Safety to help keep you, your car and your wallet damage-free this holiday season.

  1. Slow down. On busy shopping days and in crowded parking lots, it’s best to assume that many drivers aren’t paying full attention to the road in front of them – much less the parking lot behind them. If you slow down in parking lots, driving no faster than 10 miles per hour—or less, if it’s crowded—you should have plenty of time to react to unexpected hazards and other drivers’ negligence, helping you avoid a costly collision.
  2. Stay calm. Be patient and try to stay calm when waiting in long lines of traffic or trying to find a parking spot. Tensions are often high this time of year; if you are feeling frustrated, take a few deep breaths and consider taking a space farther away from the store—the walk may even help calm you down and you will avoid possible altercations with agitated shoppers.
  3. Scan your surroundings before backing up. As you are walking to your car, take note of what—and who—is around. This is especially important during the busy holiday season, when more pedestrians may be walking behind and in front of your vehicle. If you do a full scan around the outside of your vehicle before getting into it, you’ll feel more confident backing out in a crowded lot. Once you’re in the driver’s seat, turn around fully before reversing your vehicle—do not rely on your mirrors. Be sure to look for young children, who are more difficult to spot.
  4. Be an aware pedestrian. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), pedestrian deaths were up 4 percent in 2010, the most recent data available. The uptick was due in large part to distracted driving and distracted walking —in 2011, more than 1,000 people were treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by walking while talking or texting on their cell phone. When walking in a crowded parking lot, be aware of your surroundings. Take note of people getting into their cars, traffic markings and busy intersections. Most important, put away your phone to prevent a dangerous accident.
  5. Be strategic about where you park. By parking in a space that is farther away from your destination, you’ll feel safer, get some exercise and may even avoid dings from other drivers’ doors. You may also be able to choose a spot with more room to navigate when backing up or parking.

You could also avoid the parking lot hassle altogether by shopping online. According to SmartMoney, more and more retailers are offering their sale prices and Black Friday specials online, so you can enjoy the deals from the comfort – and safety – of your home.

For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking a driver improvement course, such as the AARP Driver Safety course, available in a classroom or online setting, in both English and Spanish. In some states, you may even be eligible for an insurance discount upon completion of the AARP Driver Safety course.*

For more information, visit or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669).

*The insurance premium discount is not available in all states for the online or the classroom versions of the course. Requirements vary from state to state. In some states, separate rules may apply to online driver improvement courses. Please consult your insurance agent for further details.

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Julie Lee, Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety, has more than 30 years experience in management, strategic planning, transportation and safety. With AARP for over eight years, Lee directs the largest driver improvement course designed for drivers age 50 and older.

(Photo courtesy of paulswansen/Flickr)

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