Parking Lot Safety Tips for Parents

Teach your child how to stay safe when you're walking through parking lots.
 Bounce / Cultura / Getty Images

One minute, your child is by your side as you’re navigating the grocery cart to the car. The next thing you know, he’s dashed off—and you begin to panic. It’s a scary thought for any parent.

After all, more than 50,000 crashes occur in parking lots and garages annually, resulting in more than 60,000 injuries and 500 deaths.

However, crashes aren’t the only risk in a parking lot or garages. Potholes and cracks, debris, poor lighting, and ice are all risks for both parent and child.

Because children don’t necessarily have the maturity to understand the dangers in these situations, it’s up to the parents to ensure that their little one stays safe.

Parking Lot Dangers

Even the safest of drivers on the road might let down their guard in a parking lot, thinking that they’re driving slowly enough to engage in risky behavior.

A National Safety Council public opinion poll found that when driving through a parking lot:

  • 66 percent of drivers report feeling comfortable making phone calls
  • 63 percent would program their GPS
  • 56 percent would send a text message
  • 52 percent would use social media
  • 49 percent take photos or watch videos

Therefore, it’s clear that many drivers are not paying vigilant attention to their surroundings, which makes parking lots a serious safety issues for children (as well as adult pedestrians).

Establish Clear Rules

Toddlers don’t understand why it’s OK to run around the playground but not OK to do the same in the grocery store parking lot. So it’s important to establish clear rules for parking lots.

Here are some sample rules you might want to teach your child:

  • Never play near parked cars. At least 50 children are backed over in driveways and parking lots every week in the United States. It’s important to teach your child that it’s never OK to play near cars, even when they’re parked.
  • Look around for cars. Drivers have trouble seeing kids, but kids often assume if they can see the car, then the driver can see them. Teach your child to look around for cars. Make it clear that it’s never OK to play games or act silly in parking lots.
  • Hold an adult’s hand. Tell your child to hold your hand whenever you’re in a parking lot. This becomes a little more complicated if you also have a baby or when you’re pushing a grocery cart. In those cases, find something else for your child to do—like hold onto your cart.
  • Use walking feet in a parking lot. Emphasize the importance of walking in parking lots. Explain that running could be unsafe because cars might not see her.

Review the rules before you get out of the car. Say, “We’re at the store, but let’s talk about the parking lot safety rules before we get out.”

Make sure to talk about the rules specific to your location too. Your child's school may have rules for loading or unloading, for example.

And be sure to follow the rules yourself. If the grocery store carts have directions about where your child can ride, follow the rules. Carts can tip over or kids can fall out if they aren't used properly.

Teach the STAR Method

Kids do well with easily memorized phrases, so if your child is likely to understand an acronym, teach the STAR method:

  • S: Stop and stand still when you get out of the car.
  • T: Touch a designated place on the car and wait.
  • A: Pay attention to what’s going on around you, and listen to your parent.
  • R: Be ready to grab a parent’s hand when they tell you it’s time to go.

Of course, there’s safety to be concerned about when you’re returning to the car, too. Talk to your child about what you expect him to do when you leave the building so he can keep safety in mind on the way back to the car.

Reward Good Behavior

When you see your little one take safety measures in a parking lot or around cars, offer plenty of praise. Children typically respond well to being lauded for doing something good, and the praise will stick in their mind and reinforce these safety measures.

Say things like, “Great job remembering to hold my hand today,” or “I really like the way you looked both ways when we were about to step off the sidewalk.”

If your child has a lot of difficulty with parking lot safety, a reward system can help. Create a sticker chart and bring it with you in the car so you can put a sticker on the chart as soon as you return.

Before getting out of the car, say, “You can earn a sticker if you use walking feet and hold my hand today.” For preschoolers, stickers are often enough to motivate them to follow the rules. But if your child is a little older, or she isn’t impressed by stickers, you might offer a more substantial reward—such as a chance to play a game when you get home.

Give Consequences for Misbehavior

If your child darts out into a parking lot or he refuses to stop playing in the puddles, give him a consequence. Say, “That’s not safe in the parking lot.”

You might decide to return to the car for a brief time-out. Then, your child will have another opportunity to try again.

Or, you might take away a privilege—like his favorite toy for a short period of time. Be consistent with your discipline so your child knows that parking lot safety is a big deal.

If your child regularly runs ahead or his behavior has become a serious safety concern, you might need to limit his trips when parking lots are involved. If at all possible, don’t take him to stores if you’re going to be carrying items out to the car. That could make monitoring his behavior a little more complicated.

Instead, you might take him on some practice trips when your arms are empty and you have plenty of time to put him in time-out if necessary. Find a parking lot that isn’t likely to be overcrowded and review the rules before you get out.

Helping your child get a few successful trips behind him can give him more confidence that he can behave the next time you get out of the car in a busy parking lot.

Be a Good Role Model

It’s important to role model safe skills as a pedestrian. Avoid talking on the phone while you’re walking across parking lots. And don’t send text messages either. Otherwise, your child will pick up on your habits. Show him that you’re paying close attention to what’s going on around you and you’re practicing staying safe as well.

Tips for Driving Safely in Parking Lots

As a driver, you play a significant role in parking lot safety, too. The National Safety Council notes that more than one-third of pedestrian deaths in parking result from backup incidents.

Before you get in the driver’s seat, do a quick circle around the car to make sure that there’s nothing and nobody in the way. Even if you have a backup camera, keep in mind that backup cameras sometimes can’t detect small children.

Once you’re in the car, look over your shoulder and use your mirrors as you back up. This is particularly important if you drive a vehicle such as an SUV or a minivan, because visibility is difficult and blind spots are even more of a concern. Move slowly as you get your car trip started.

When you’re leaving the parking lot, emphasize that you’re still focused on safety. Say things to your child like, “I’m keeping an eye out for people who are walking because I want to be a safe driver.”

You can also point out other people who are being safe. Say things like, “I’ll stop and let this family go by. I’m happy to see that little boy is holding his dad’s hand while they walk across the parking lot.”