When you’re learning to drive, doing a reverse parallel park is one of the driving test manoeuvres you could be tested on. But even when you’ve passed, it might be something you’ll have to do a lot – especially if you live in a built-up area. So it’s important to learn how to parallel park like a pro.
What is parallel parking?
Parallel parking is a type of parking where you manoeuvre your car along the side of the road, usually in a line of parked cars. Ideally, your car should end up reasonably close to and parallel (in line) with the kerb.
Reversing is the best way to parallel park because it lets you get into smaller spaces than if you go in forwards. Lastly, you tend to stop alongside the car parked in front of the space you want to park in, and then reverse into the spot.
What’s the 1-2-1 method for parallel parking?
Most driving instructors will use the 1-2-1 method to teach you to parallel park. This will give you one clear method to use every time you need to squeeze into a tight spot. It’s called the 1-2-1 method because you turn the wheel once to the left, twice to the right, and finally once to the left to straighten up.
How to parallel park for the UK driving test
Here we go…let’s assume that you’re parking with the flow of traffic, on the left-hand side of the road. Let’s also assume the parked cars are facing in the same direction. When we refer to another car’s front or back bumper, reverse these if the car’s facing in the opposite direction.
Also bear in mind that your driving instructor may use slightly different reference points, but the ideas are the same. Parallel parking is very visual, so it’s also a good idea to watch some step by step videos on that little website called YouTube to help you out.
1. Make sure the parking space is big enough
Firstly, be sure that the space you’re thinking of parking in is big enough. If it’s not, you’re about to make your life a whole lot more difficult than it needs to be.
Pull up next to the space to size it up. There should ideally be at least two feet of wiggle room both in front and to the rear. In future, you’re likely to get to a level where you can intuitively tell if the space is big enough, and you may not need to line yourself up next to the space to judge. But for now, it’s best to make absolutely sure you’ll fit.
2. Indicate and pull up next to the car in front
Edge forward until you’re slightly further forward than the car in front of your space. Having their front bumper lined up with the centre of your passenger-side front window is ideal.
Before performing any manoeuvre, be sure to check your mirrors and blind spot. It’s important to always be aware of what’s happening around your car, and that you’re not being a hazard to other traffic or people. If you think that you are, you should wait until any potential danger has passed before you continue. Once it’s safe, it’s time to go for it! The key is to reverse slowly and steadily, but steer quickly.
3. Reverse until your back tyres are aligned with the back bumper of theparallel car
Begin to reverse, looking over your left shoulder through your rear window. Stop when your back tyres are roughly aligned with the back bumper of the parallel car.
4. Turn the steering wheel to the left
Check your mirror and blind spot again, and – if it’s safe to go – turn the steering wheel one complete turn to the left. Keeping it nice and slow, start to reverse. The front of the car will swing out into the road, which is why you want to check if nothing’s approaching or passing you.
Keep checking both your rear-view to see how close you are to the car parked behind you and your wing mirrors to check the position of the kerb. When you’re clear of the car in front and can see the kerb in the wing mirror, apply your brakes.
5. Turn the steering wheel to the right
When you’ve stopped, turn the steering wheel fully to the right, so you’re in full lock. When you start reversing again, the front of your car will tighten up to the kerb. When your car’s level to the kerb, stop.
6. Turn the steering wheel to the left
You then turn the wheel a full turn to the left to straighten up. Ideally you want the car to be tight to the kerb, and the wheels pointing directly ahead along with the flow of the traffic.
You may need to make a few adjustments to get it just right, but don’t worry too much about this. It’s normal for drivers with years of experience not to get it right first time.
Parallel parking reference points
- To check a space is big enough, pull up alongside it and make sure there’s about 2 feet to the front and to the rear
- Line up your front passenger window with the car in front’s bumper
- Reverse until your back tyres are roughly aligned with the back bumper of the parallel car
- Apply your brakes when you’re clear of the car in front and can see the kerb in the wing mirror
- Straighten up until you’re level to the kerb
How do I parallel park on the opposite side of the road?
If you’re parking on the right-hand side of the road, you basically do the same, but everything’s in the opposite direction. So switch your lefts and your rights.
You might find it less of a challenge to park on the right, because everything’s on your near side, and distances are a bit easier to gauge.
We’ve also got an article all about how to reverse park into a bay that you might find helpful.
And just in case you’re a visual learner then why not check out our videos to give you the most rounded information you can get your hands on!
How to Parallel Park Easily (121 Method) - Learning to Drive
Learning to drive?
The best way to master the art of parallel parking is to get out and practice. With our learner driver insurance you could practice with a friend or family member outside of your lessons. Cover is available from 2 hours up to 180 days.
Good luck on your test! If you’re feeling nervous, check out our tips on how to pass your driving test first time.