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Is Parallel Parking Outdated?

Cars parallel-parked on street
It seems like parallel parking would still be a handy skill to have on this street. RelaxFoto.de/E+/Getty Images

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If the thought of parallel parking makes you break out in a cold sweat, you aren't alone. Whether you're trying to pass your state's driving test or using those skills to snag the last spot on a busy street, it can be a stressful proposition. Like other tricky driving tasks, parallel parking gets easier with practice, though increasingly more drivers are coming to think of this skill as irrelevant. And, novice drivers who live in certain U.S. states might be able to doze through that part of the driver's ed class and pass the driving test anyway.

Michigan is the latest state to float the idea of scrapping parallel parking from the list of requirements to obtain a driver's license. House Bill 4576 was introduced on May 9 by Republican Rep. Sarah Lightner. The congresswoman told Detroit-area news outlets that she introduced the bill after receiving complaints from constituents who were annoyed that they spent $50 on the state driving test only to fail for what they saw as an unnecessary or superfluous skill.

The bill states, "The Secretary of State shall not require an applicant for an operator's license to demonstrate proficiency in the skill of parallel parking to successfully complete a driving skills test."

"The idea behind the bill is that the skills that underlie parallel parking are important and are taught throughout the driver's ed process, but few Michigan drivers are typically in situations that require parallel parking," Rep. Lightner's office said in a statement to HowStuffWorks. "Feedback has been mixed, but has started a great conversation on the skills currently necessary to safely operate a car."

In May 2019, 16 states did not require the successful demonstration of parallel parking skills for a driver's license, writes Rob Stumpf for The Drive, though Michigan is resurrecting a debate that lay dormant for a while. Maryland was the most recent state to drop parallel parking from the driving test, and that was back in 2015.

Other states that have ditched the skill include Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming. In the case of Maryland, as reported by NPR and USA Today in 2015, the state's Motor Vehicle Administration thought it was too redundant to continue including parallel parking on the test, since the skills used are nearly identical to other segments of the test, such as a reverse two-point turn. At the time, critics suggested that the state's motivations were to both speed up the test and cut down on the number of drivers who had to retake the test, concerns that are echoed by critics of Michigan's proposed legislation. NPR also reported there was plenty of public backlash as well, mostly from older residents of the state who commented on online news stories that it was unfair that younger drivers benefit from an easier driving test.

parked cars touching
Ooh, that's close.
simonkr/E+/Getty Images

So, what happens to drivers who learn to parallel park, in theory, but never quite master the skill? In a lot of places, it's easy to get around that, thanks to parking lots, parking garages, angled street parking spots and valet parking. And, if you have a newer car, it probably includes at least some technology features to help you out. Some auto manufacturers call these "advanced" or "active" safety systems, while others call them "driver aids" or "driver assistance." The newer and more expensive the car is, the more likely these tech features will appear in a package marketed as some variation of "semi-autonomous" or "self-parking" technology.

These features, says AAA, include:

  • Rearview cameras
  • Multi-angle cameras
  • Front and rear parking sensors that detect obstacles near the bumpers
  • Side sensors that let you know when you're close to the curb
  • Systems that help identify a parking spot that will accommodate the car
  • Systems that partially (driver assist) or completely steer the car into the parking spot

Eventually, people will be catching rides in fully autonomous cars that won't need as much downtime in a parking space, wrote research firm Deloitte.

Though Lightner told Detroit-area news outlets that parallel parking is "becoming an outdated practice," her office told HowStuffWorks that the bill shouldn't be interpreted to mean that new parking technology is a replacement for actual driving skills. Driver-assist systems definitely were among the factors that were considered in the bill, but the bill was not designed specifically based on the idea of drivers relying on parking assist systems, according to Lightner's office.

In general, states that have stopped testing parallel parking still require first-time drivers to complete a driver's education course, which still will include parallel parking instruction.

Even if the states that have stopped testing parallel parking didn't do so because of the availability of new technology, it seems inevitable that such technology will eventually replace parking skills. After all, if state representatives will introduce bills based on constituents' feedback, and those constituents grow increasingly accustomed to relatively basic features like backup cameras and parking sensors, and more sophisticated tech like parking assist systems that actually help steer the car, well, it's easy to see where this is going.

As for Michigan, the home of many automakers introducing these new features as quickly as they can, we'll see if other lawmakers agree with Lightner. To pass, the bill must be approved by both chambers of the state legislature and signed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Michigan, like the other states that have passed such laws, would still teach parallel parking in driver's education courses.

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