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Car Accidents in Parking Lots: Who Is at Fault?

Jan. 21, 2020
5 mins
Mom buckles baby into the car seat in their family vehicle

Though they commonly feature speed bumps, narrow lanes, and slow speed limits, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, about 20% (or one in five) of all car accidents occur in parking lots and garages.

It leaves you scratching your head. How can it be so many drivers get into an auto accident in a parking lot or underground garage? More importantly, how will it affect your auto insurance premium if you get into a collision (even a slow-moving one) in a parking lot?

Common Questions About Parking Lot Accidents:

Do rules of the road apply in parking lots?

In general, yes. Whenever you get behind the wheel to operate a motor vehicle, all traffic laws apply.

The one outlier is Ontario, where shopping centre parking lots are considered to be private property and not roads. Therefore, the traffic rules of the Highway Traffic Act do not apply to them.

That does not mean you can drive erratically in a parking lot in Ontario and not face the consequences for your actions. On the contrary. The Criminal Code still applies, and some Ontario municipalities have declared the parking lots in their jurisdictions as roads. Thus, the Highway Traffic Act does apply. Otherwise, traffic laws do apply to parking lots in every other part of Canada.

How should I drive in a parking lot?

Sometimes, we all need a refresher on what our responsibilities are as motorists navigating our way through a maze of parked cars. Always remember:

  1. A driver in a thoroughfare lane has the right-of-way before drivers in feeder lanes. A thoroughfare is generally a lane that exits to a street. These tend to be wider and are the main arteries of the parking lot. Feeder lanes, on the other hand, are smaller lanes that typically begin and end at the thoroughfares.
  2. If you open the door of your car and someone else hits it, you are at fault. If you are opening your car door to exit, ensure there is no traffic nearby first. By opening your door without looking and you hit another vehicle, you are likely at fault.
  3. If you hit a legally parked car while driving, you are automatically at fault. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Regardless of the situation, if you hit a legally parked vehicle, you are at fault.
  4. You must obey all signs in a parking lot. The signs are there for a reason. If you get in an accident because you disobeyed a traffic sign, then yes, you are at fault.
  5. If you are pulling out of a parking space, yield to oncoming vehicles. You must make sure there is no traffic before pulling out of a parking spot. It is your responsibility to look and ensure the coast is clear before pulling out of a parking space.

How do I prevent getting into a parking lot accident?

A little common sense goes a long way. Here are five tips to help avoid getting in an accident the next time you need to park in a public lot:

  • Pay Attention. Don’t use your mobile phone while driving at any time and that includes in parking lots. Also, keep an eye out for pedestrians.
  • Limit Blind Spots. Park your vehicle so it faces outward and you do not have to reverse to get out of a parking spot. The more you can see, the less the chance you will hit another car or person.
  • Park Farther Away. Instead of trying to get a spot that’s close to the entrance of a department store or building, choose a place that’s farther away. Avoiding high-traffic areas helps reduce the chances of getting into a fender-bender.
  • Slow Down. It isn’t the Indy 500; it’s a parking lot full of other vehicles and pedestrians, including children. Stay alert and drive slowly even if the lot appears to be clear of traffic.
  • Be Mature. There is no benefit to getting into a kerfuffle with another driver over a parking spot. Take the high road and be courteous by letting the other motorist have the spot. You’ll always find another.

What happens if I am in a car accident in a parking lot?

An auto accident in a parking lot or garage is the same as a vehicle collision on a main road because these spaces have right-of-way rules too.

What do I do if I get in a parking lot accident?

Parking lot accidents are treated the same way as accidents on the road. To support a claim if you file one, gather as many details as possible including taking photos, asking any passersby to be a witness if they saw the accident, and exchange your insurance information with the other vehicle’s driver. Most importantly, if anyone is hurt, immediately call 9-1-1.

What will happen to my auto insurance premium?

Like in any vehicle collision, your insurer will consider all aspects of the accident, including whether or not you are at fault for it. If you are, it can impact your car insurance rate.

Protect yourself with the right auto insurance policy

A car accident can happen anywhere at any time to anyone. Beyond driving safely and courteously and obeying all traffic laws, your best protection is an auto insurance policy that caters to your unique needs.

Whether you have been in a collision or not, take a few minutes to get the best car insurance quote you can by comparing your existing policy to quotes in real-time from more than 30 insurance companies.

Liam Lahey

Liam Lahey is a versatile marketer with experience as a staff and freelance writer for many business and technology publications and newspapers. He previously worked as the editor and media spokesperson for RATESDOTCA, handling home, auto, and travel insurance topics.

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