When it comes to parking spaces, it is not unusual to feel like you have been transported to Gulliver’s Lilliput! With only a couple of inches between your car and its neighbours, squeezing into a supermarket parking space can be a stressful endeavour. Parking bays on streets are often simply too small. Irrespective of precise manoeuvring, zealous council wardens will frequently be able to find an out-of-line wheel, or a bumper overhanging the road by a critical ½ inch. It can of course be argued that drivers of particularly large vehicles must expect to struggle to fit into a space designed for a car with ‘normal’ proportions. It is becoming increasingly unclear, however, how these normal proportions should be defined.
According to official government documents, parking bays, painted, for example, along a carriageway, should be between 1.8 metres and 2.7 metres wide. This recommended width allows for the fact that cars parked legally alongside a road must not disturb the free flow of traffic along that road. However this width has not been updated since it was first established – for cars which were the norm on British roads around 60 years ago.
The numerous ‘how-to-fight-your-parking-ticket’ tips which can be found online are an indication of the problem currently faced by a lot of drivers: modern cars are simply getting too big to fit comfortably into the parking spaces designed around narrower predecessors. Here are some examples: The Mercedes A class 2012, which comprises a series of modern, small family cars, will have a width of 1.78 metres. This would leave a 10 mm gap on each side of the vehicle – and does not take into account side mirrors. The current Renault Megane, at 1,94 metres width, and a Ford Focus, at 1.84 metres wide, would not fit into a 1.8 metre wide parking bay at all, even with their side mirrors chopped off.
There are, by contrast, no official regulations for the width of supermarket car parking spaces. There are, however, regulations in place which specify how many parking spaces per square metre of shop space must be available to customers. Similar regulations apply for office buildings, sport stadiums, doctors’ surgeries, and schools. It is understandable that the managers of these institutions tend to draw up smaller individual parking spaces, rather than acquire more parking land to reach the target number of spaces. Nor does the UK driving test put sufficient focus on parking skills which means the average driving lesson does not involve considerable practice on tight parking.
Although wider than the 1.8 metres of a bay space, car park spaces are often extremely narrow, a problem worsened by the fact that here, of course other cars will be directly adjacent. Very, very precise parking is necessary to enable all parking spaces in one row to be filled – with one car each. This is crucial, because with a lack of space, sloppy parking often means several spaces are wasted and unusable. Of course in car parks it is not just the width of the bay that is important – the space between rows determines how easy it is to get your car in and out of the spaces without causing damage and without angled parking. In too many cases not only are the spaces too narrow but the gaps between rows are tiny making it impossible to park a car which does not have a small turning circle.
What is required is a re-definition of width for a ‘standard’ car and widening of spaces where possible (on a narrow road, bay spaces often cannot be widened without causing a significant disruption to traffic on that road).