Always Use Your Parking Brake! By Shaun de Jager

Car front-seat interior

Shaun de Jager is a trained race car driver, a road safety educator, and a valuable blogger on road safety issues.

As a dedicated specialist, he works to make our roads safer through advanced driver training and education. With Shaun’s help, you can take classes such as: upgrading your driving skills, driver rehabilitation, shifting from automatic to manual transmission, advanced control classes and high performance driving.

We can all learn a lot from Shaun. The only downside? He’s in the Greater Toronto Area and so far he hasn’t opened a driving school in Vancouver or the lower mainland.

Here is Shaun’s latest blog – one we can all learn from:

Driving isn’t over until it’s over and requires our full attention even for something as simple as parking your car. We’ve all had momentary lapses in concentration. We’ve all had moments driving when our thoughts have been focused on something else (what to make for dinner, a sick family member, or stresses over work or relationships). But when our thoughts are on something other than driving, we make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are harmless but sometimes those mistakes can result in bent fenders or worse, a fatality.

Recently a friend of mine made such a mistake. To protect the identity of the embarrassed and ashamed, I will call her Anna. She drives a BMW 5-series that is a few years old with a manual transmission. She pulled into her driveway but her mind wasn’t on the tasks at hand – probably hadn’t been for her whole drive home. She parked her car like she had a thousand times before but this time was different. Her mind was focused on something else and in her haste to exit the car, she grabbed her purse and jumped out of the car. What she didn’t realize was that her purse banged against the shifter popping it into neutral. After slamming the door closed…the car began to roll backward. Try as she may to get back into the car, she couldn’t. She tripped, fell and nearly got run over by her own car. She thought her driveway was flat and level, but she was wrong. She hadn’t set the parking brake (something that every driver should do, every time they park, regardless of if it’s an automatic or a manual transmission).

Backward the car rolled down her driveway, across the street, and crashed into the side of a car parked opposite her driveway. The driver of the other car had just gotten out and was a few short steps away. Her car suffered no damage, the other car suffered some bent metal on the door and she suffered some nasty bruises and damaged her pride. She got lucky.

Now we play the ‘what-if’ game. What the driver of that car hadn’t gotten out until a few seconds later? He could have been crushed just as he was leaving his car. He certainly wouldn’t have expected a car to roll into him just then. What if there had been pedestrians walking past just then? What if another car had been coming along at speed? Your job as a driver isn’t over the moment you park your car. You still have to ensure you follow your standard shut-down procedures and that includes setting your parking brake (regardless of what type of vehicle it is) and you need to be sure you don’t upset anything when you exit the vehicle.

I would hazard a guess that at least 95% of people who drive a car with an automatic transmission never set their parking brake. This is a huge mistake. On many automatics, “P” is basically the same as “N” but a parking pawl (a pin) is engaged to secure the car from rolling. Although if your car is hit from the front or behind while say parked on the street, that pin can snap and there is nothing stopping the car from rolling away. Additionally, the constant use of only the parking pawl, especially on hills, subjects the transmission and drive train to constant loads and stress, This will eventually lead to failure of the parking pawl or transmission linkage.

With a manual transmission, it is recommended always to be parked with the handbrake engaged, in concert with their lowest gear (usually either first or reverse). However, when parking on level ground, many people either only engage the handbrake (gear lever in neutral), or only select a gear (handbrake released). My friend admitted that she doesn’t always use the parking brake unless she parks on a hill. If parking with only one system results in the car rolling and damaging the car or other property, insurance companies in some countries, for example in Germany, aren’t required to pay for the damages.

The moral of the story is to ALWAYS use both techniques to secure your vehicle when parking. If you don’t, consider yourself lucky if all you damage is your transmission and drive-train. If you’re unlucky, the consequences could be far worse.

Story kindly reproduced with permission from Shaun de Jager.

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