If someone is pulling out of a parking spot, they must yield right of way to vehicles driving by and to pedestrians. If they cause a pedestrian accident or a car accident while backing out, they will almost always be responsible and liable.
However, there can be exceptions, such as when the oncoming vehicle was speeding or the pedestrian was especially negligent.
Do drivers have the right of way when they pull out of a parking space?
No, vehicles that were parked and are now pulling out of their spot generally do not have right of way. They have to yield to vehicles traveling in the parking lot. They also have to yield to pedestrians.
This can be difficult to do. Parking lots are notorious for having lots going on. They are also full of parked cars, which create very poor visibility and lots of blind spots. This can make it very difficult to see oncoming traffic through the other parked cars.
Nevertheless, drivers pulling out of their parking spot have the legal responsibility to do so safely. If they hit another car or a pedestrian, they are usually liable. They can be made to compensate the victim of the parking lot accident.
There are exceptions, though. If the driver or the pedestrian that got hit was behaving unreasonably, their share of the fault may be more than the driver pulling out of the parking spot. Their negligence can come in a wide variety of forms, such as:
- drivers who were under the influence at the time of the crash,
- pedestrians who saw you backing out and deliberately got hit,
- drivers speeding through the parking lot, giving the drivers of parked vehicles little time to see them coming,
- people running through the lot, weaving in between the cars in the parking spots and darting behind them, and
- drivers going through vacant parking spaces, rather than the lane between them.
In these cases, the person hit by the car pulling out may have contributed to the accident. If they hire a car accident attorney to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver pulling out, shared fault rules like comparative negligence may reduce their compensation or bar it altogether.
What about accidents involving 2 drivers backing out?
If multiple cars are backing out at the same time from opposite directions and back into each other, they are usually both at fault. Each driver will have to turn to their own insurance company for compensation for the crash.
The good news is that these accidents are rarely severe. Neither vehicle will have had the room or time to speed up. There are hardly ever any personal injuries in these fender benders. The only damage is property damage.
Nevertheless, it can still be wise to exchange contact information and insurance information with the other driver. This can help the insurance companies sort out who will pay for the accident.
How does right of way work elsewhere in a parking lot?
Generally speaking, there are 3 types of areas in a parking lot:
- parking spaces,
- parking lanes, also known as feeder lanes, and
- thoroughfare lanes, or through lanes.
The thoroughfare lane connects the lot to the street. It also often runs around the perimeter of the parking area.
Feeder lanes run between the aisles of parking spaces. They usually run the length of the parking lot, connecting to the through lane at each end.
In this list, each area must yield the right of way to the next. Vehicles in parking spaces yield to vehicles in parking lanes and through lanes. Vehicles in feeder lanes have right of way over vehicles in parking spaces, but must yield to those in thoroughfare lanes. Vehicles in thoroughfare lanes have right of way over all other vehicles in the lot. This hierarchy is based on the flow of traffic. Parked vehicles yield to moving vehicles when backing out of a space. Moving vehicles have to yield to other moving vehicles in the main lane of traffic.
However, all vehicles must yield to pedestrians. Pedestrians have right of way at all times in parking lots. However, they can still cause an accident by behaving unreasonably.
The general rule for the speed limit in parking lots is 15 miles per hour. This is meant to ensure that motorists have enough time to brake and prevent a parking lot collision.
Some parking lots have their own right of way rules, though. These must be prominently displayed on traffic signs or in paint on the blacktop. These may reduce the speed limit or alter right of way by, for example:
- requiring vehicles on the thoroughfare lane to yield to those coming out of certain feeder lanes,
- using stop signs to determine right of way,
- imposing one-way feeder lanes, and
- creating rules for pedestrians when crossing through lanes, often with a crosswalk and crossing sign.
A failure to abide by these traffic laws can be used as evidence of negligence in an auto accident case. That finding of negligence can make a big difference in the determination of fault for the incident.
If you were hurt in a busy parking lot, you should consider establishing an attorney-client relationship with a personal injury attorney to recover compensation from the at-fault party.
How common are parking lot accidents?
Parking lot accidents are surprisingly common and can be shockingly severe.
Around 1 in 5 car accidents happen in parking lots, causing around 60,000 injuries and approximately 500 deaths every year.1 A big reason for the high number of these accidents is a tendency to drive while distracted in a parking lot, in spite of the barrage of potential hazards. According to one poll, in parking lots:
- 66 percent of drivers would make phone calls,
- 63 percent program their GPS devices,
- 56 percent text on the phone,
- 52 percent use social media,
- 50 percent send or received emails, and
- 49 percent take photos or watch videos.2
That distraction can lead to serious or even fatal injuries, especially to vulnerable victims. Many victims in parking lot accidents are children. Because of their short height, even an attentive driver backing up from his or her parking spot are often unable to see young kids. Additionally, children frequently run through parking lots, making it difficult for drivers to predict where they will be.
If there has been a fatal pedestrian or vehicle accident in a parking lot, the victim’s loved ones can file a wrongful death claim. Doing so often takes the legal advice of a personal injury lawyer from a reputable law firm.
- CBS News, “Why hundreds are killed in crashes in parking lots and garages every year,” November 21, 2016.
- National Safety Council, “Distracted Driving Public Opinion Poll,” March, 2016.