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Your holiday enemy: The parking lot

'Tis the season for parking lot accidents. With the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reporting that 20 percent of all claims for car damage involve parking lot collisions, parking lot safety during the holidays is especially important.

"Driving through the parking lot is sort of like driving through a whole series of intersections back to back -- always a potential for conflict," says William Van Tassel, manager of driver training programs at AAA National. "Things are very tightly positioned there. Plus, your vision is limited so you can't see the other cars. And of course there are always huge numbers of pedestrians which you would not normally find in another driving situation out on the roadway so you've got a lot of issues here."

parking lot accidentsVan Tassel offers the following tips for avoiding parking lot collisions during the busy shopping season.

  • Reduce your speed. "That will give you more time to respond in case you need to."
  • Scan for anything that's moving and might be potential trouble. "The problem is that if you can't see it or don't see it, you can't do anything about it."
  • Park away from other vehicles. "This decreases the number of cars and pedestrians nearby."
  • Park with your front end facing out so that you're not backing into an uncertain situation. "Backing out can cause all kinds of problems."
  • Put your packages in the trunk or behind the seats. "You don't want anything rolling around to distract you."
  • Don't rely on your mirrors. "Use your eyes to check your surroundings since mirrors can be deceiving."
  • Don't use your cellphone to talk or text while your vehicle is moving. "Parking lots and cellphones do not mix."

"Overall, there's really no other place where there are so many mini-intersections concentrated together so we advise drivers to really treat parking lots with just as much care as they would at a regular intersection when the signal lights are out. They really need to use an abundance of caution," says Van Tassel.

"Go slow, look for anything moving, park smart, and perhaps the best advice of all is just expect all the other drivers not to see you at all. If you're ready for that, you're going to save yourself a lot of trouble this season," he says.

The parking lot crash

Many shoppers will have to file insurance claims as a result of parking lot incidents. According to Brian S. Goodman of Pessin Katz Law in Towson, Md., reporting the accident quickly is the key to getting your claim handled in a timely manner during this busy season.

If you crash into someone else, your liability coverage will pay for damages and injuries (up to your policy limits). If someone crashes into you, you can make a claim against his or her car insurance policy.

"Obviously people are out shopping a lot more over the holidays making accidents more likely to happen," he says. "Consumers should know that if they are involved in a collision, they need to report it immediately to their insurance company. You have an obligation to report these things. You don't want to give the insurance company a reason to deny you coverage in the future."

Goodman also cautions shoppers to beware of icy conditions that can lead to slipping and falling.

"We're not just talking about car accidents in parking lots -- there are also more slip and falls in parking lots because of the snow and ice. Consumers need to be aware that if they sustain an injury from falling in the parking lot of a business such as a mall or post office, then they need to report this to the business's manager and also to their insurance companies in order to get proper coverage."

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