Picture this. You get to the supermarket and the car park is packed. You decide to park at the back in one of the bays on the edge of the car park. There's only one way in and it's the same way out. Even the bays in the main area are effectively one way in and the same way out because other cars block your chance to drive in and drive out.
So the question is, should you reverse in and drive out? Or should you drive in and reverse out?
The answer to many is obvious, particularly when the area you're in is busy. It's much easier just to drive into the bay and hope for the best when you've finished your shopping / seen the doctor / visited your friend (delete as appropriate)
Driving straight in is quick and easy, but the problem is getting back out again. Have you ever found that?
On Christmas Eve I was at Tesco on Gallagher retail park in Scunthorpe. I've never seen it so busy. Neither had the one man in a yellow jacket who was trying to control the traffic whilst most people ignored him and the entire car park ground to a halt.
I felt sorry for him, horns were going off all over the place and he was going to be on the losing side no matter what. Traffic control like this is no job for one person. I've done it, many hundreds of times, and I can confidently say that 10 people would have struggled to deal with the amount of traffic that day.
We all sat in the queue, waiting for what seemed like forever until the traffic started to move (or creep) and I noticed something interesting.
Without doubt the major cause of all the congestion was the overwhelming number of people who had simply driven straight into parking bays, knowing that they'd have to reverse out of it into the incredibly busy situation around them.
There was a constant, never ending stream of cars trying to reverse out of bays all over the car park. Because they had cars tightly jammed on both sides and limited room with the queues, they all ended up moving backwards and forwards, jostling for position and just trying to get out of the bays, whilst those already waiting in the lines had to make room for them. Quite honestly, it was ridiculous.
I took a quick look around and at least 80% of the cars parked up had been driven in, the remaining 20% of people had intelligently decided to reverse in, even though it was probably a little inconvenient to them at the time and must have taken them (shock) at least 20 more seconds to get into Tesco.
Those I watched reversing out looked incredibly stressed. Trying to get the steering just right as you're reversing can be a nightmare, particularly in a tight bay when there's very limited room to manoeuvre. You have to literally get almost the full length of the car out of the bay before you can even consider turning the steering wheel much or you'll collide with one of the vehicles on either side of you.
On the contrary, It's hard to overstate just how easy it is to drive out of a bay, even when it's a tight squeeze, as the wheels at the front of the car do the turning. Because the front wheels turn and the back ones don't, you can start to steer much earlier. The front will swing when you turn, but the rear of the car will not swing anywhere near as much.
That may sound obvious, but think about it. When you're forced to reverse out of a tight bay because you made the bad decision to simply drive into it, the wheels that steer the car are now at the back because you're going backwards. Sound odd? Let me explain.
Just imagine if you could spin your driving seat around and face the back of the car with all the controls moved so you can get the car moving, but you leave the four road wheels of the car exactly as they are. Now you'll understand what I mean. You move forwards and turn the steering wheel, but the wheels that do the steering are now at the back of the car. You have no control at all of the direction the wheels at the front can take because they're fixed in place. They're always going to point forwards.
This configuration is just like a fork lift truck. They are designed with the steering wheels at the back so they can turn on a sixpence, but the difference is that in a warehouse on a fork lift you'd have all the space in the world around you to turn in.
If you have difficulty imagining this, the next time you go shopping volunteer to push the trolley. When you do, just try to steer it by moving the rear of it only, don't allow the front to swing at all. In the wide aisles, you'll probably be OK, but if the space gets tighter you'll have a difficult job.
Thinking about the space you need around the front of the car as the wheels turn, because the front will swing from side to side, it's not that hard to imagine how much easier it is to reverse into a bay. Even when the space is incredibly tight, the space in the lanes will usually be plenty and you'll have so much more room to swing the front as much as you need. If you're trying to reverse out you'll have no room at all to swing the front, and that's the cause of the problem.
Next time you're in a packed car park and you're choosing your bay, just think. Is it really quicker to just drive in and have to reverse out later? Is it really any easier?
The few seconds you could save by driving in could be wiped out if it takes a minute or so to get out of the bay. And remember, it's a lot harder to reverse out when there's not much room than it is to reverse in. If you reverse in, your drive out will be a doddle.