In this article
What is parallel parking?
Parallel parking is a reversing technique where you line your car up parallel to a parked vehicle on the side of the road and then reverse into a safe gap behind that vehicle. With practice, the manoeuvre is quite simple. However, many learner drivers struggle with it, especially during their first few attempts.
Parallel parking steps
- Identify your parking spot
- Pull up in your parking spot
- Line up alongside the parked vehicle
- Select reverse and complete your observations
- Steer one full circle to the left
- Steer two full circles to the right
- Steer one full turn to the left
Why is it such a valuable skill?
It’s difficult to drive forwards into a small gap between parked cars. However, your car is a bit more agile when it’s in reverse. So with the extra manoeuvrability and a little practice, parallel parking can help you squeeze into tight spaces on roads with lots of parked cars.
How to parallel park: The 1-2-1 method
There are several approaches you can take when parallel parking, but the method we like the best is called the 1-2-1 method. The technique is easy to grasp and works well when needing to finish within two car lengths of the parked vehicle.
The method consists of one full turn to the left, two full turns to the right and one full turn to the left to finish. Your reference points will vary based on your car, height and seating position, so keep this in mind when practising.
Identity your parking spot
You need to identify a suitable parking spot before you can get started. The objective is to reverse park behind a vehicle on the side of the road, so you’ll need to look for a parked vehicle with around two car lengths of space behind it.
Before pulling up, ensure the space is safe, convenient, and legal. Do not park on a dropped kerb – unless the driving examiner tells you otherwise. Do not stop on a zebra crossing, zig zag road markings, the brow of a hill or opposite another parked vehicle on a narrow road.
Pull up in your parking spot
When you’ve identified a suitable parking spot, use the MSM routine to pull up on the left-hand side. Check your centre and left door mirror, signal if there’s following or oncoming traffic, and gradually reduce your speed as you move over. Try to finish with your wheels straight and at least one car length away from the parked vehicle. Doing so will stop you from climbing the kerb, swinging out into the middle of the road, or getting too close to the parked vehicle when you move off again.
Once you’ve stopped, select neutral and apply the handbrake.
Your steering wheel and wheels should be straight when you line up alongside the parked car. If you start at an angle, you could clip the parked car or swing out into the road as you reverse.
Line up alongside the parked vehicle
With the handbrake applied, press clutch down, select first gear and add a bit of gas. Then, find your biting point, keep your feet still and complete the 6-point check. Don’t forget to look over your right shoulder into your blind spot.
Your vehicle could be a hazard to those around you when parallel parking, so good all-around observation is essential. Don’t start the manoeuvre if you’ll endanger other road users. Instead, stay where you are if you spot oncoming traffic or pedestrians crossing the road. Ideally, you’ll wait until the road is clear before you begin, as it’s safer for those around you and less pressure.
When the road is clear, gently ease off the clutch, and the vehicle will start to move. Keep the clutch pedal low and steer briskly to stop yourself from getting too close to the vehicle in front.
Line up just ahead of the parked vehicle, with a metre gap between you. As a reference point, you can stop when your left door mirror lines up with the front of the parked vehicle. If the vehicle is facing the opposite direction, your left door mirror should line up with its back.
Select reverse and complete your observations
With your vehicle positioned correctly – i.e. parallel and slightly ahead of the parked vehicle, apply the handbrake, select reverse and have a good look all around. You must show effective observation at this point. This means assessing the road situation and acting on what you see.
It isn’t enough to look left and right. You must ensure it’s safe to proceed before reversing. Remember to check your blind spot and indicate left if you spot traffic. Your reverse lights and signal will inform other road users of your intentions.
When you’re sure it’s safe, reverse till the back of your vehicle lines up with the back or front of the other vehicle. Look through your rear window and check your mirrors as you reverse. Keep an eye out for other vehicles, riders and pedestrians. Stop and give way if another road user approaches your vehicle.
When you’re level with the other vehicle, stop, select neutral and apply the handbrake. This is your point of turn and second reference point.
Be mindful of drivers and riders that give way to you, but move off while you’re still reversing. Some riders and smaller cars will not wait for you to finish the manoeuvre. Instead, they’ll move off when they spot a big enough gap. You must stop if the other road user moves off, even if they initially gave way to you. You will fail your driving test if you reverse into the path of another road user.
Turn one full circle to the left
At your point of turn, clutch down, select reverse, and take another good look around your vehicle. Look out for following and oncoming traffic and nearby pedestrians. When it’s safe, release the handbrake, ease off the clutch and steer one full turn to the left as you start to reverse. Use clutch control to control your speed, and keep an eye on the front of your vehicle as you tuck into the gap.
As you reverse, your vehicle’s nose will swing out into the road, so keep an eye out for passing traffic and stop if another road user approaches your vehicle. Look at the front of your vehicle and through the rear window as you manoeuvre into the gap.
Turn two full circles to the right
Check your mirrors, rear window and both blind spots as your reverse. Check your left door mirror as you get closer to the side of the road, and once the kerb starts to disappear beneath your door handle, turn two full circles to the right. This will bring the front of your vehicle in.
You must bring the front of your vehicle in before your rear wheels touch the kerb, so it’s crucial to steer quickly while driving slowly.
Due to the arched shape of the road – also known as the camber – your vehicle will pick up speed as you get closer to the kerb. If you fail to notice this, you could lose control of your car and climb the kerb.
Steer one full turn to the left
If your reference points are right, you’ll gradually head towards the kerb with full control of your vehicle. Of course, you’ll still need to observe all around, but keep an eye on your left door mirror. Once the kerb appears parallel in this mirror, steer one full turn to the right to straighten up.
The manoeuvre is complete when your wheels are straight, and you’re parallel to the kerb.
If your vehicle isn’t straight when you finish the manoeuvre, let the driving examiner know that you’d like to fix your positioning, You can straighten up by moving forwards and backwards wIthin two car lengths of the parked car.
Parallel Parking: FAQs
Yes, the reverse parallel park is still a driving test manoeuvre. The DVSA changed the driving test in 2017, replacing the ‘turn in the road’ and ‘reverse around the corner’ manoeuvres with ‘forward bay park’ and the ‘pull up on the right and reverse’. On your test, the driving examiner will choose one of the following three reversing manoeuvres;
- Parallel park
- Reversing or driving forwards into a bay
- Pull up on the right and reverse for two car lengths
Yes, you can restart the manoeuvre if you can’t get your vehicle straight. You have two attempts at the manoeuvre, and if you aren’t happy with your first, you can try again.
If you need to restart make sure you look all around your vehicle before returning to the starting position.
Unfortunately, you can fail your driving test when parallel parking. To avoid picking up a serious fault, you must demonstrate effective observation, control of your vehicle, and consideration for those around you. You can fail your test for any of the following;
- Climbing the kerb
- Swinging out into the road
- Failing to stop for passing traffic
- Failing to stop for nearby pedestrians
- Poor observation
- Getting too close to the parked vehicle
- Finishing outside of two-car lengths
When reversing on your driving test, you must finish within two car lengths of the parked car. You will fail if you cannot complete the manoeuvre within this space.
Once you’ve mastered the technique, it should be relatively easy to finish within two car lengths. After a while, it might even feel a tad unrealistic as you won’t need such a large amount of space when parking.
Other road users have right of way when you’re parallel parking, so look out for pedestrians, oncoming vehicles and passing traffic. You must stop and give way if you notice someone heading toward your vehicle.
You could endanger other road users if you do not give way when approached. If this happens on your driving test, you’ll also pick up a serious fault. When you give way, allow the other vehicle to pass before restarting the manoeuvre.
If there’s no one around you, you do not have to signal when parallel parking. But if you spot a vehicle, rider or pedestrian, signal to make the individual aware of your intentions.
When you’ve lined up alongside the parked car, your brake lights, reverse lights and indicators will inform anyone nearby of your intentions to reverse into the gap.
The best way to get better at the manoeuvre is to practice as often as you can. It’s that simple. If you’re finding it hard going, ask your driving instructor to spend at least one double driving lesson on the manoeuvre. Two hours of solid practice should help iron out any lingering issues. If you have a family member or friend you can practice with, ask them to spare a couple of hours so you can work on your form.
You can also ask your instructor to pick this manoeuvre during your mock driving test to give you an idea of what it’s like to reverse park under pressure.
As you practice, you’ll get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. You can experiment with your reference points and try different techniques if you’re struggling with the 1-2-1 method.
We’ve also found that stopping and applying the handbrake at each reference point can slow things down and improve your accuracy.