Defensive Parking and Common Sense

Old caWhen I am delivering personal safety training I occasionally get asked whether a car should be parked ‘nose in’ or ‘nose out’. Often the person asking has a preconceived answer based upon what they’ve heard or read. I also have a preconceived answer, but it might not be what you think.

When it comes to the use of our vehicles in self defence, or accessing our vehicles to escape in a self defence situation, there are four key variables that I like people to consider: the context and environment, the vehicle, the personal capabilities and limitations of the person parking, and the likelihood of the car being part of a combative or escape situation.


The context and environment

Why are you parking, why are you making this trip?

If you are shopping for things that require you to access the boot (trunk) of your car then your priority should be to be for that to be easily accessible – in other words it shouldn’t have another car parked up against it. Whether or not that is ‘nose in’ or ‘nose out’ depends on the design of the parking spaces in the vicinity.

Where are you parking, what time are you parking and when will you return to collect your car?

When you park tends to determine how much choice you get as to where you park, when you are returning will tend to determine how many cars are around yours and therefore how easy it is to access the doors or see into the car. Ideally people should choose well lit, overlooked (and possibly CCTV monitored) car parks – but often that choice isn’t fully ours to make.

How many other people have already parked?

The choice of parking space is often determined by the actions of others. That also determines as to whether ‘nose in’ or ‘nose out’ best suits your needs.

How big is the parking space relative to the car?

If you’re parking in Europe or the UK then getting in or out of a car when other cars are parked alongside is generally an exercise in body contortionism. It’s not something that is affected much by how the car is parked. You aren’t going to be able to use an opened door as an effective shield. The position of the nose of the car that gives you the quickest access to the back of the doors from the direction from which you approach the car is the ‘best’ position but by so little it hardly makes a difference.


The vehicle

Does your car have an airbag?

Most modern cars have an airbag safety feature. This means if we bump into something the airbag deploys and hits the driver and obscures the view ahead. Generally speaking the airbag in the steering wheel is more likely to be deployed if the car hits something to the front than to the back. As a result if you do have to ram something to get out of a situation it can often be best to do so using the back of the car unless you are already pre-prepared and ready for an airbag deployment.

Does the car have a crumple zone?

Most modern cars are designed to crumple more at the front than at the rear. The front of the car is therefore the worst thing to hit anything with while driving to escape. As we are more likely to bump into things under pressure an initial reversing out of a spot may be safer than driving nose first. This may apply more to cars built to European safety standards than other standards.

Is your car lower or higher than normal?

This will affect how quickly you can get into your car under pressure.

Does your car have easily operable doors?

This will affect how quickly you can get into your car under pressure.

Is the car closed or open topped?

Trying to escape from someone in by getting into an open topped car may mean you get ‘in’ quicker, but they are more likely to join you.

Does the car have an electronic key or a physical key?

With high adrenaline levels and a resultant lowered fine motor control, inserting a key into a door may take much longer than normal. Opening the car by an electronic key is quicker and more reliable.

Does the car have an automatic internal locking button?

One of my habits on entering a car is to lock the doors if I am on my own. It’s routine. The car will do it anyway as soon as I drive off.


Your personable capabilities

How are you used to parking?

How I park depends on what I am doing and the angle of approach available, along with what I am driving. If I’m going to the supermarket or teaching a martial arts class I will always park ‘nose in’ as I want to put things in and out of the boot (trunk). If I’m not using the boot then depending on the angle of approach and where I am parking I’ll go either ‘nose in’ or ‘nose out’. As I’m more accustomed to parking ‘nose in’, under pressure without thinking about it I’d be more likely to put the car into reverse than first gear. Under pressure most of us will do what we have trained to do.

Could you actually run someone down that you could see?

A large number of people that I have met in both the martial arts and non martial arts community are very averse to hitting people, especially hitting people in the face. They can hit pads, but hitting a real person doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially under pressure. If you are not a particularly violent person then deliberately driving forwards into someone trying to stop your car may be beyond you. Reversing into a person you can’t see clearly may be easier (and safer).


The likelihood of the car being part of a combative or escape situation

Are people attacked by people hiding near or in their cars? Yes. Do people have to run to their cars to escape? Yes. Are these events common? No. Is the likelihood of such an event high? No. If you want to form a better picture and see just how low the odds of it happening are then do some research to see how often it has happened, where it has happened, and from that you might get an idea of why it happened. The risk of having to get into your car at speed to avoid pursuit or attack is so low that it should not outweigh the primary convenience factors of why you are parking in the first place.


I’ve looked at this ‘in’ or ‘out’ question. I’ve probably over analysed it. I’ve done this so that I don’t have to think about it again. In my opinion the key priority that should determine how we park is what we are intending to do. The factors that surround getting into a car under pressure means that when accessing the vehicle it makes very little difference whether you are ‘nose in’ or ‘nose out’. What is better for driving away depends on your personality and the type of vehicle. For me the majority of the time I need to access my boot (trunk) and the environment forces me to park ‘nose in’ to do so. Would I prefer to reverse into a threat than drive head on into a threat – given the nature of my car and its crumple and airbag system I’d prefer to reverse out of a space. Carry on parking whichever way you have been parking for the purpose for which you are parking and where possible choose easily accessible, well lit and overlooked/monitored sites.

blogcar2An old car of mine and a newer car of mine. Their different sizes and tolerances to impact greatly determines how I might have driven them defensively when I had them.

One comment

  1. Hi John, thanks for the blog, some worthy thoughts on parking which are not obviouse ones.

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