12 holiday tips for driving in parking lots

John Egan

This holiday season, millions of Americans are heading to malls and shopping centers to stock up on gifts. If you're not careful, though, your merry shopping trip quickly can turn "Bah-humbug!" Parking lots are prime territory for getting into a wreck.

“While the throngs of shoppers bode well for retailers, the large, deal-hungry crowds create significant challenges -- especially when it comes to parking,” says Shawn Conrad, executive director of the International Parking Institute, a trade association for parking professionals.

The International Parking Institute, the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America and AAA provide these 12 tips for staying safe and sane in crowded parking lots during the holiday shopping season:

1. Be careful when backing up. One-fourth of parking-related accidents involve vehicles that are backing up. Watch for cars and pedestrians when backing out of a parking space.

2. Don’t park between spots, especially in busy lots. "You may gain only retribution from angry fellow shoppers," the insurance agents group says.

3. Follow the law. Obey posted speed limits and stop signs, and reserve handicapped spots for disabled motorists. Drive slowly, and remember to signal when turning.

4. Use your headlights. Keeping your headlights on reduces your crash risk, even in the daytime.

5. Eliminate distractions. Before you start driving, turn off or put away cellphones and set up navigation devices.

6. Keep your distance. Pick a parking space that's a fair distance from the stores. Fewer people want to park in far-away spots, meaning fewer hassles if you're not among the hoards of motorists who are closer to the stores.

7. Follow basic etiquette. When waiting for a parking spot, do not block other drivers who are seeking spaces. Once parked, center your vehicle and pull all the way into the space.

8. Keep an eye out for kids. Children can be hard to see in busy parking areas and often make quick, unpredictable moves.

9. Buckle up. Even low-speed collisions in parking lots can cause injuries.

10. Be calm. Resist the temptation to blow your car horn or blow your stack. Reeling in your anger helps prevent parking-lot rage.

11. Stay on your toes. Park in well-lit areas and always make sure you’ve rolled up your car windows and locked your doors. Have your keys out and ready when returning to your car.

12. Take your time. “Allowing a little extra time to park during the holidays may be the best strategy of all," the parking institute's Conrad says.

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