AAA offers tips to avoid parking lot war

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With Black Friday shopping sales starting as early as Thanksgiving night, AAA Mid-Atlantic is warning shoppers to use caution and keep their calm while searching for that perfect parking spot.

"Tempers may be short as drivers circle the parking lot in search of an empty space," said Ragina C. Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Do not let trivial parking lot wars dim your holiday glow, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. Avoid the kind of petty confrontations that can result in additional holiday expenses, including fender-benders, personal injuries and a general grinch-like attitude.

"Sometimes normal, rational-thinking people can become someone completely different when the search for convenient parking and bargains begin and will ruin the holidays for themselves and other shoppers," added Averella.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 20 percent of all vehicle collisions that result in damage claims occur in parking lots. Since this is the start of the holiday shopping season, AAA Mid-Atlantic offers the following advice for navigating parking lots and protecting vehicles and pedestrians as they seek those special gifts and door busters:

Head for the side door.  Many shoppers want to park near their favorite stores or near the mall entrance. Most malls have secondary entrances on the sides and those entrances usually have less traffic and additional convenient spaces.

Play the outfield. Outlying areas normally have more open spaces, lighter traffic and a lower risk of collision. Plus, it doesn't hurt to walk off the holiday treats. In some cases, however, those spaces may not be as secure so be aware of the risks.

See and be seen. Use your headlights when scouring parking garages for spaces, even in the daytime. The light will let other cars see you coming around turns and can make fitting into that tight parking space a little easier. Research shows that keeping your headlights on reduces your crash risk even during daylight hours.

Beware of tall vehicles. Avoid parking between a pair of tall SUVs or minivans where it might be hard for you to back out of the space. If you can't see well enough to back out safely, get help from one of your passengers.

Refrain from reverse. If possible, avoid backing out of a space by either backing into it or pulling through two spaces that are open nose-to-nose. In some municipalities, however, backing into spaces amid moving traffic is illegal. Also, be careful about impeding traffic flow.

Look out for little ones. It can be difficult to see small children in busy parking lots. Be aware of your surroundings and look for children, who may make quick, unpredictable movements. When walking to and from stores, hold the hands of your children to keep them safe from traffic.

Stay on track and alert. Pedestrians should use walkways and crosswalks, if available. If walking in the traffic lanes is unavoidable, be alert for subtle cues - including exhaust or reverse lights - that signal a vehicle is about to pull out. When behind the wheel, always be on the lookout for pedestrians especially small children.

Thieves like to window shop. Place all shopping bags and valuables in the trunk, including the GPS and its mount, so they won't be visible to would-be thieves. Remove any evidence, such as GPS suction cup marks from the vehicle's windshield. It takes a thief just seconds to smash a window and steal your shopping loot.  

Stay on guard in parking lots.  Choose a well-lighted area to park at night.  When returning to your vehicle, have keys ready in hand and check the car's interior before entering, using a penlight at night.  Report suspicious people or cars.

Slow down, buckle up. Even a low-speed collision can result in injuries. Make sure that everyone is strapped in a seat belt or child safety seat while the vehicle is in motion, even if it is just a short trip to another part of the parking lot.

Wait until Cyber Monday.  Many retailers will have special online promotions on Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

AAA Mid-Atlantic is based in Wilmington, Del., and serves nearly four million members in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia with personal insurance, financial, automotive and travel services through 53 retail branches, regional operations centers and the Internet.

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