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How to Parallel Park

Louise Kirkpatrick owns a driving school in the East Midlands region of England.

A line of parallel-parked cars

A line of parallel-parked cars

1-2-1 Parallel Parking

Reverse parking (often called parallel parking) is one of the manoeuvres that the examiner may ask you to do on your practical driving test.

The aim is to show that you can reverse the car safely to park it in a space behind another parked car, close to and parallel with the curb. You need to demonstrate smooth coordination of the controls and good observation throughout the manoeuvre.

Here, you will find step by step instructions, video tutorials, and tips to help you learn how to do it!

Why Bother With Parallel Parking?

  • It is a VERY useful skill which will enable you to park quickly and easily.
  • To park in many spots, this skill is required.
  • It's far easier than trying to nose into a parking space, and while it looks difficult at first, once you get the hang of it, it's very straightforward!
  • It may be required on your driving test.

The Driving Test

You may be asked to reverse park behind a single vehicle or between two vehicles—don't worry if the examiner chooses the latter, as you won't be asked to squeeze into a too-tight gap! The examiner will look for a space of one and a half to two car lengths at the bare minimum, probably longer.

The examiner will usually ask you to pull up on the left and then say something along the lines of:

"The vehicle ahead of you is the one upon which I would like you to perform the reverse / parallel park manoeuvre. Please drive forward and stop alongside the car ahead. Then reverse in and park reasonably close to and parallel with the kerb. Try to complete the exercise within about two car lengths."

Step-by-Step Instructions

Here's a summary of what's required for the parallel parking exercise.

For those who prefer visual instructions, there are some tutorial videos further down the page—some with an audio commentary for those who like to listen to what they need to do!

What If I Mount the Kerb?

If your wheel pops up onto the kerb during the test, it will count as a serious fault and you will fail.

  • For UK drivers: Start with your left door mirror in line with the front bumper of the target car (the one you are going to park behind!) and about an arm's length away. Your handbrake should be on.
  • Before you move your car, look all around you, left and right, checking for pedestrians as well as other vehicles. If there is a pedestrian at the side of the road, wait until they are out of the way before reversing—it's safer!
  • Take your handbrake off. Looking over your left shoulder, reverse slowly back using clutch control until the back of the target car is visible in the back near-side door window.
  • Keeping the car moving slowly, turn the steering wheel one turn (360 degrees) to the left.
  • Look once over your right shoulder and then over your left shoulder as you continue to move slowly in reverse.
  • When the left door mirror is pointing at the back off-side of the target car, turn the steering wheel two full turns to the right (720 degrees).
  • Keeping the car moving, look again over your right shoulder and then over your left shoulder.
  • Once the car is straight and parallel to the kerb, turn the steering wheel another one turn to the left to straighten the wheels.
  • Put your handbrake on and gear lever into neutral.
  • Remember the steering pattern used: One turn to the left, two turns to the right, and one turn to the left—1 2 1!

Parallel Parking Dos and Don'ts!

  • Keep your speed SLOW.
  • Be aware of what's happening in every direction throughout the manoeuvre.
  • Keep the car moving—don't "dry steer" (turn wheel when car isn't moving).
  • Remember the "1 2 1" steering pattern.
  • Keep within 2 car lengths of the vehicle in front, parallel to & reasonably close to the kerb.
  • Don't hit the kerb!

What If I Make a Mistake?

Keep your speed slow and watch out for other road users and pedestrians at all times.

If you need to go forward again because you've got your positioning wrong, this is perfectly okay—it's better to start over than hit the kerb!

Common Mistakes

Mistakes that could result in driving test faults when doing the parallel / reverse parking manoeuvre:

  • Poor coordination of controls.
  • Scrubbing, brushing, or mounting the kerb.
  • Unnecessarily shunting backwards and forwards.
  • Getting too close to the target car.
  • Turning the steering wheel the wrong way.
  • Parking too far from the kerb.
  • Stalling.
  • Not completing within two car lengths.
  • Finishing at an acute angle to the kerb.

Parallel Parking Video Tutorials

It's sometimes easier to understand when you see something done rather than just read a set of instructions! The following videos will give you visual instructions.

Can You Take Your Seatbelt off When Reversing?

Yes, you can take your seatbelt off when carrying out any of the reversing manoeuvres on your driving test, but it's not advisable! It's very easy to forget to put it back on afterwards, which won't impress the examiner at all!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2009 LouiseKirkpatrick