Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
There was a time in America when there were no traffic laws, mainly because encountering a fellow traveler in the great trackless wilderness was actually an event of some note. As time went on, the population, and its density, increased. Roads evolved from forest trails to dirt paths and from there to gravel, brick, and stone. Eventually the advent of the motor vehicle made necessary the paving of roads. To avoid collisions, carelessness, and needless bloodshed, laws were enacted governing our behaviors on the roads and highways. We sometimes chafe over the restrictions of speed limits and ill-timed traffic signals, but by and large we recognize that those laws are there to keep us safe, and so we heed them.
Unfortunately, there are areas where people seem to think traffic laws don’t exist. One of those areas is the parking lot.
American frontiersman used to say “There ain’t no law west of St. Louie, and there ain’t no God west of Ft. Smith.” It was a fairly accurate statement describing the relatively lawless nature of the west in those years. We have come far since those days, but there are times when the “frontier” of the mall parking lot is as dangerous a place as Allen Street was in Old Tombstone, Arizona.
Parking lots are areas of high density, both vehicles and people. And yet there are those of us who drive through them as if they were the only ones within miles. We’ve all seen the daredevil who cuts perpendicularly across the parking lanes, and those who roar through those lots at dangerous speeds. It doesn’t help that parking lots are generally considered private property and therefore not the purview of the local gendarmerie. Lots have rules, but the only ones around to enforce them are the Mall Cops, and I’ve never seen them give anyone a ticket. Not that such a ticket would be taken seriously. I’ve never seen a galleria traffic court. But the thing that most puzzles me are the actions of pedestrians.
No sane person would dare step off a curb directly into the path of an approaching vehicle. Yet those same people think nothing of purposefully walking behind a car backing out of a parking space. Let’s be reasonable here. When a driver is backing out, their vision is extremely limited. There are vehicles parked on either side. And these days, more than likely those vehicles are high-sided, such as trucks, SUVs, and minivans. The driver can’t see either left or right until the car gets far enough out that he or she can see an approaching pedestrian. We all know this basic fact when we’re behind the wheel. But put us on our feet, and we suddenly forget.
The same thing applies when a person gets out of their vehicle and begins walking towards the mall. We all know what happens to children who pop out from in between parked cars into the street to chase a ball. Why we don’t apply that same common-sense knowledge to ourselves is something of a mystery. Even careful drivers who navigate the parking rows at sane speeds of 10 mph or less can be surprised when a pedestrian walks out from between a pair of Cadillac Escalades without looking.
As drivers, we must be alert to parked cars about to pull out. There is a reason why all manufacturers put those backup lights on their vehicles. As we approach a car set to back out, remember that they probably can’t see us approaching and despite the well-understood rules about right-of-way, it might behoove us to either stop, swing wide, or at least give them a courtesy toot of the horn just to let them know we’re there.
Mariners know well that there are one set of “rules of the road” for navigating at sea and a completely different set for traversing inland waterways, such as rivers, bays, and harbors. What we as both drivers and pedestrians must recognize is that navigating a parking lot is a completely different proposition than a city street or state highway. In a parking lot, both pedestrians and vehicles share the same patch of asphalt. Both parties must realize the limitations of the other and act with extreme care and patience.
That way, we all get home safely.