• Defensive Driving Rule #19: Avoid Backing Up

    Many fender-benders occur when drivers back up. Several years ago, my state purchased a fleet of fifty full-size vans for the use of state agencies. Within a couple of years, all but ONE of those vans had backing damage of one kind or another—the only one that didn't was the one used by the driving instructors to TEACH employees how to drive the vans! I have heard that many other companies with fleet vehicles report the same problem, and it's not just vans.

    Since the risks are higher for collisions while backing, take special care to make sure you don't back-up without visually clearing the area behind the vehicle first. Many times each year, children are run over in their own driveways because drivers didn't look behind their vehicles first. For this reason, many companies require their drivers to place an orange traffic cone behind their vehicles when they park, forcing them to look behind it again as they pick up the cone prior to driving away.

    Once you've cleared the area behind you, turn and look to the rear while you back. In trucks, you may not be able to see directly to the rear, except in the side view mirrors. It's always a good idea to have a "spotter" behind you in these circumstances, a second person standing behind your vehicle where you can see them, giving you information about how you are doing. Keep your speed very low—down to a crawl.

    There are a couple more ways to protect against parking lot mishaps. If you can, pick a parking spot you can pull straight into and on to the next row, so that when you depart, you are pulling forward out of your spot instead of backing up. In busier parking lots where this is not possible, try backing into your parking space to begin with instead of backing out when you leave. The advantage is you can visually clear the parking spot as you approach it, adding a bit of extra safety, and then exit it forward instead of backing into the driving lane as you leave.

    Many folks think it is illegal to back up on a roadway. This is not always the case. In my state, for example, you can back up on a roadway as long as you do so safely—but that's the real issue, isn't it? It's not easy to be safe when trying to back up on a roadway you're sharing with many other vehicles and pedestrians. One situation where you shouldn't back up is when you overrun a "stop line" at an intersection while stopping for a red light (or stop sign). If this happens, and you find yourself straddling the crosswalk, it is usually better to stay where you are, rather than backing up to the proper place. Backing up through a crosswalk can be much more dangerous for obvious reasons.

    Another exception is on controlled access highways, where it is illegal to stop or back up anywhere on the right-of-way, including shoulders, gore areas, off-ramps and access roads. As always, you should check the law in YOUR state so you know what the law is where you drive, but also consider that just because something is legal doesn't always mean it is safe.

    Happy motoring and keep the shiny side up!
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. FrankBurke's Avatar
      FrankBurke -
      While I agree with much of what this author says, this article should be re-written. There is one extremely key point missing. Unfortunately, that point goes missing from almost everywhere that proper backing procedure is discussed. When it comes to backing up, the simple, key, and complete rule to follow is this:

      If there is any way to avoid it, then choose not to back up at all. But, when you encounter a situation where you have to back up, ALWAYS back in, and NEVER back out!

      Whenever backing becomes necessary, you will have to choose whether you will back in or out. And it is supremely critical which one you choose. Unlike many other things in life, this decision is never something that is up for discussion or situational assessment. If you have to back up, then you must back in; simple as that. I was trained on driving techniques and safety by the Air Force and later by UPS. Because delivery drivers frequently need to back up to docks, UPS is especially expert on what the best practices are for backing up. UPS insists that drivers follow this extremely simple rule (above). This rule keeps the UPS fleet remarkably free of rear end damage, and reduces accident claims dramatically.

      According to the National Safety Council, one in four vehicle accidents happen while backing up, and these account for 500 deaths and 15,000 injuries per year. As Robert Schaller noted, frequently children get run over in their own driveways. While it is correct that these accidents are related to drivers not looking behind their vehicles first, this article and its guidelines present us with a problem, but not with a realistic solution. The tragedy of this type of accident is that it is so incredibly simple to solve.

      In 2012, car manufacturers have become intent on making vehicle sales by playing on society’s ignorance to the best practices, which UPS has been following for years. Rather than simply educating Americans on the simple rule that would eradicate the tragedy, auto manufacturers prefer to keep the sense of helplessness and fear going, so they can sell cars with built-in backup cameras, body heat sensors, and computers that automatically hit the brakes, even when the driver doesn’t react to that child they are about to run over. Similar devices are being sold furiously by after-market hucksters. Each of these profit-first endeavors has little to no interest in ending a lucrative market. To be honest, many of them probably don’t even realize how easy we could solve this problem with a simple behavior change.

      There is a clear reason why “ALWAYS back in, and NEVER back out” works to instantly stop virtually all backing accidents, particularly the “run over the child” type. It is all about visibility and timing. In the back in scenario, you have perfect visibility into the spot, which you are about to back into. And you will back into it without delay, because you are already driving. It is the last thing you do, as you steer your vehicle to a safe parking spot. Conversely, backing out is an essentially blind activity, by its very nature. You have to overcome the negative physics of the situation, which is actually fairly hard to do.

      Even in the best of back-out scenarios, where the driver has approached the vehicle from behind on the way to the driver’s seat, there is much more delay between the visual confirmation and the actual backing maneuver. Unfortunately, the reality of the back-out scenario is that most drivers will never visually confirm that their rear end is clear in the first place. Furthermore, most drivers then spend many seconds to minutes in the driver’s seat before they finally back out in total blindness to what is low and behind their vehicle. Conversely, a driver following the always back-in rule simply cannot make the same mistakes. It is simple physics that the back IN scenario is nearly impossible to do wrong, and the back OUT scenario is hard to do right.

      Every driving safety source should immediately re-write their backing up guidance to incorporate this simple and highly effective rule of thumb. It is insane that parents literally are knowingly rolling the dice that they may be crushing their own or the neighbors’ children, when they back out blindly from their garages hundreds of times each year. Deep in our heads, we all know this to be true. Just in case we have forced it to a hidden corner of our brain, the auto company hucksters are there to remind us. We can truly turn this sad story around in the blink of an eye, by simply doing what UPS and others fleet owners have already proven is supremely easy to do and full of fantastic ROI.
    1. Southwest Dave's Avatar
      Southwest Dave -
      Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

      Thank-you for your detailed and informative post and as an ex Truck driver appreciate exactly what you are saying. Without the use of an internal rear view mirror, it certainly highlights how wary you have to be of blind spots and it reminds you of it on a daily basis, unlike it might a car driver who relies on it too much. [And shouldn't in these situations]

      By chance, it was just the other day I helped prevent a possible nasty situation. A truck that was parked roadside had a vehicle back in, in front of him while unloading blocking his exit forwards. He closed his shutter after unloading and checked the back of the vehicle, jumped in the cab, sorted out his paperwork, checked his next delivery and put his seatbelt on. All in less than a minute, but by that time a young inexperienced lad on a moped had pulled in behind with his front tyre practically touching the step of the truck in front. I just managed to get close enough to yell as he was about to run the lad over. A bit of a row followed between them and in all honesty I felt the same as the driver, presuming the lad could not have been that stupid, and a valuable lesson is to presume nothing and always double check at the last possible moment !!

      There is one extremely key point missing. Unfortunately, that point goes missing from almost everywhere that proper backing procedure is discussed.
      In fairness, it was touched upon here in the article, but thanks for highlighting the fact that it should be done in all situations where it is safe to do so.

      In busier parking lots where this is not possible, try backing into your parking space to begin with instead of backing out when you leave. The advantage is you can visually clear the parking spot as you approach it, adding a bit of extra safety, and then exit it forward instead of backing into the driving lane as you leave.
      Enjoy RTA !