Q: Backing out of angle parking is tricky. Without the aid of backup cameras (or even with them), if the person backing up is hit by oncoming traffic, who would be at fault? This assumes oncoming traffic is not speeding, texting, or otherwise doing something that could contribute to the crash.
A: Before we get to the “Whose fault is it?” let’s acknowledge that most angle parking has a fundamentally flawed design. Pulling into a parking spot is easy, but the problem becomes apparent when it’s time to leave. Depending on who parked next to you, you might need to back half your vehicle out of the parking spot and into the lane of travel before you can see if there’s another car coming. When backing out of an angle parking stall, the driver is positioned at the wrong end and wrong side of the vehicle to see oncoming traffic.
There are better options. Some communities have swapped out angle parking for back-in angle parking. The parking stripes are reversed compared to what you’re used to; the driver pulls past the parking spot and backs in. When it’s time to go, drivers can look out their side window rather than through their car to see oncoming traffic, and they’re positioned so that they can see the traffic before they pull into the travel lane.
Back-in-angle parking isn’t perfect. If you decide to park in a back-in angle spot, but the car behind you is following too close, they might block you from backing into the parking space. Compare the options though, and it’s a choice between inconvenience (not being able to back into your spot) and hazard (not being able to see as you back into traffic.) If given the choice between two less-than-perfect options, I’ll go for the one that is least likely to cause harm.
I’m less about finding fault and more about working together to make driving safer. But if there’s a crash, someone’s insurance company is going to be finding fault, and they’ll be basing it on both the specifics of the crash and on relevant laws.
Law prohibits backing up a vehicle unless, “such movement can be made with safety and without interfering with other traffic.” If backing out of a parking stall results in a crash, it’s pretty clear that it was both unsafe and interfered with traffic.
The question mentioned speeding, texting or otherwise doing something that could contribute to the crash, but there’s also the things a driver fails to do. Respecting the speed limit and leaving your phone alone are bare minimum requirements for driving. The law actually says that compliance with speed requirements isn’t enough. It expects drivers to use “due care and caution” to avoid a crash.
A good driver continuously scans for potential hazards, including cars backing up into the roadway, so there’s some responsibility for the driver on the road too.
Each crash is unique, but they often have similarities. I won’t predict fault in a hypothetical crash, but in general the backing driver most likely will bear the primary responsibility.
The goal though, is to avoid a crash altogether. If you’re the driver on the road, that might include allowing a driver backing out of an angle parking spot the room to get out, even if it means giving up your right-of-way and a few seconds of your day.
Doug Dahl writes a weekly traffic column called The Wise Drive for this newspaper. He is with the state Traffic Safety Commission.