New technology such as parking sensors and rear-view cameras can help but, no matter how sophisticated these systems are, they are fighting a losing battle against car parking spaces.
While cars are becoming progressively larger, the spaces provided for them in supermarkets, town centres, railway stations and hospitals – just about anywhere – remain static. The space designed for a Ford Cortina hasn’t grown to accommodate a Ford Mondeo.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that damage caused to parked vehicles ranks as the most common incident recorded by fleet drivers.
RAC Business Solutions studies have shown that more than 14% of claims involve this type of accident. At least 7% of claims are from drivers who have hit a stationary target with another 7% from a driver whose parked car has been hit by another vehicle.
A survey by Arval earlier this year confirmed that parking and manoeuvring accounted for most of the damage suffered by company cars. Bumper damage, knocks on alloy wheels, chipped glass, dents in doors and scratched boot lids make up the bulk of the prangs.
The average cost of repairing a minor bump is around £200 which, spread across a large fleet, can run into thousands of pounds.
The chances of finding the culprit are slim.
A survey by Churchill Insurance discovered that 13 million drivers – 40% of all road users – have bumped another car and driven off without owning up.
Just 8% said they would leave a note. The worst offenders are in East Anglia, where 80% of those interviewed said they would leave the scene of the accident without reporting it.
The larger the car, the more there is to damage, and car sizes have steadily increased over the past 20 years.
A 1984 Vauxhall Nova had grown 20cm in length and 11cm in width by the time it evolved into the 2005 Corsa. The 1993 Astra F added almost 25cm in length and 7cm in width to become the 2005 New Astra.
Ford’s Fiesta has grown in width by 10cm and by more than 25cm in length, while the 1980s Escort has turned into the 2005 Focus, which is almost 40cm longer and 20cm wider.
The latest Mondeo is 34cm longer and 11cm wider than the 1980s Sierra.
Clearly parking spaces need to be large enough to take these increasingly portly vehicles. Those in the parking trade say they are trying to keep pace, but are often defeated by circumstance. Tim Duke, technical director for NCP, said the firm kept a constant eye on car sizes and reviewed its bay sizes wherever possible. In newer multi-storey buildings and open car parks this can happen without too much fuss.
However, the structure of older car parks, often held up by immovable pillars, proved problematic. Duke said it was the public that caused the problem in the first place as people wanted bigger cars. He said: ‘Fashion plays a huge part. People want wider doors and they need more space. MPVs are getting longer and taller, too.
‘People say we follow the States and their cars are getting smaller.
‘If smaller cars become more fashionable then bays may shrink in size.’
Such a move could suit NCP, as Duke admitted larger cars meant smaller profits.
He said: ‘We lease car parks by the square metre, which gives us a problem. If cars get bigger then we’re paying the same amount of rent and getting fewer cars in and our revenue suffers.’ Duke said standard NCP spaces had been 2.4m by 4.8m for the past nine years, but varied depending on location and use.
A retail park, where cars are coming and going all day, would have larger spaces to help avoid prangs. A long-term car park would have smaller spaces because cars are stationary most of the time.
Expanding on street parking throws up a different problem – the geography of the area. Ruth Verrall, of Westminster City Council, said spaces had been extended in some areas, but physical constraints sometimes prevented it.
She said: ‘We’ve got small streets.
‘They follow the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 guidelines, but they can’t increase the parking bay spaces because there’s not enough room.’