Car Park Hazards
Car parks can be extremely hazardous places. You may have experienced people parking carelessly without consideration for others, which can cause a safety hazard.
Disruption is caused by obscuring essential pedestrian routes, which makes it difficult for other cars to park alongside or move past safely.
In poor weather conditions surfaces may become flooded or slippery due to tree leaves, ice or snow. Crime can also be an issue as thieves often target parked cars in car parks, especially where these areas are not under surveillance.
Being mindful of hazards can help both owners and people using car parks take a sensible approach to prevent unnecessary accidents or unpleasant incidents. Here are some of the basic principles for safe car park design, management and use of a car parking area, as well as which legislation may be applicable, depending on where you live and work.
Assess the site
Your first consideration when designing a parking area should be to assess the potential of the ground you plan to use.
Check to see if it is on a slope, for instance, and whether it is possible to level the ground. If it is near a river or at the bottom of a steep-sided valley, might it be at risk of flooding? If it is surrounded by trees, perhaps for aesthetic purposes, will falling leaves be an issue during the autumn months? Is there sufficient space available for the number of vehicles you expect it to hold and will the car park be visible from nearby buildings?
Finally, in the context of your geographical location, think about the need for lighting and surveillance cameras.
Answering these simple questions will help you get off to a good start when it comes to creating a well-designed parking area that is as safe as possible to use, even at night.
Car park dimensions matter
For major developments, such as multi-storey or underground car parks, architects and designers use guidance provided by organisations, such as the Institution of Structural Engineers. However, smaller and simpler car parks need to follow straightforward practical guidelines, such as making sure the parking area:
- Is as close as practicable to entrances to any associated buildings
- Has clear and eligible signposts, including speed limits and specified pedestrian areas
- Has a level surface that drains easily, and is firm underfoot
- Is well-lit and easy to navigate
- Is clearly marked with designated parking areas for vehicles of different sizes.
Car park users
Employers designing a workplace car park need to think about how it will meet the needs of employees as well as visitors. If space permits, you can allocate specific parking bays to employees and reserve some spaces only for use by visitors. As long as parking bays are clearly marked, this should help traffic flow and avoid the need for vehicles to queue or struggle to find a space.
One of the most important issues to remember is making accessible space available for employees or visitors with disabilities. Normally, accessible parking bays are larger than standard ones and have extra space around the bay to offload wheelchairs or other mobility equipment. Such spaces should also be as close as possible to the buildings they serve.
Among employers’ health and safety responsibilities, there are those that apply to external areas of the workplace, including car parks. The area must be safe to use, and employers have a duty to clear car parks of anything that might adversely affect safety on the premises. This includes fallen branches, twigs and wet leaves, as well as snow and ice.
Even extremely heavy or torrential rain can cause a hazard if your car park doesn’t have good natural drainage, and you may have to keep grit or sand available should surfaces become slippery during the working day or overnight.
Remember also that rubbish and other debris may accumulate, particularly following strong winds or a storm. So, make sure the car park is clear in these circumstances. Fill potholes promptly to minimise driving hazards.
Controlling car parks
Even an ideally designed car park layout can run into trouble if you don’t take steps to control how it operates.
Start with traffic management and make sure there is an easy-to-follow one-way system in place to minimise the need to reverse or make awkward and difficult manoeuvres. Set an appropriate speed limit to slow traffic down, and consider adding physical elements that have a traffic calming effect, such as permanent bollards or speed bumps.
Monitoring car park usage will enable you to judge how successful the measures you have put in place really are, and to make adjustments accordingly. If you issue parking permits, for example, make sure these are checked regularly. Overcrowding is one of the principle causes of accidents in car parks, so it’s important to check that this does not become a problem.
Useful solutions for addressing hazards
- Pedestrian walkways should have slip-resistant surfaces so they don’t pose a potential risk when wet. If you notice employees are creating a muddy track by taking a shortcut over grass, consider turning the route into an alternative, safe pathway by paving it with slip-resistant material.
- Make essential pedestrian routes a priority for maintenance and improvement, including regular removal of fallen leaves and twigs.
- Signage should be clear and easy to read, even in the dark. So, consider lighting carefully, especially during the darker months of the year. Also, make sure signs are cleaned regularly.
- Monitor weather predictions in advance, so surfaces can be gritted or sanded before onset of inclement weather.
- Regularly check for potholes or any subsidence that may create adverse cambers and result in accidents. If your car park is prone to flooding, take steps to address this issue.
- Direct people into your building safely via anti-slip mats inside external doors.
The Safer Parking Scheme is a new initiative to help fight theft. It’s supported by the Home Office and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, among other partners. Managed by the British Parking Association (BPA), it aims to reduce crime and people’s fear of crime in parking areas.
The design and construction of car parks is assessed by experts, and the prestigious Park Mark is awarded to those car parks that achieve high standards of safety. Among the essential criteria are high-quality lighting, surveillance equipment, operation and management, as well as a clean environment.
The laws applying to parking can be somewhat confusing, as there are a number of bodies involved in decision-making. For instance, transport legislation and policies are the overarching responsibility of Her Majesty’s Government (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). Under this higher authority, however, you will find that:
- The Department for Communities and Local Government, alongside the Department for Transport, administer policies.
- Parking in hospitals and other sites where healthcare takes place is a shared responsibility between Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Transport and the Department for Health.
- On sites related to business law and consumer law, responsibility is also shared with the Department for Business.
- Sustainability related to parking is additionally a concern of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Beyond these upper tiers, the individual devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland also have the power to accept or reject specific legislation related to transport, including rules about parking on pavements or in private car parks.
Furthermore, the special privileges and parking rights afforded to the City of London Corporation vary. Whereas in the rest of the UK parking on pavements is forbidden, in London the highway authority can decide whether it is safe to do so in certain areas, and traffic signs inform vehicle owners and pedestrians where these circumstances are applicable.
In larger cities outside London, each mayor has powers that affect public transport, along with their own approach to parking policies. These are exercised in each case in a slightly different way. Searching for more cohesive and integrated solutions inevitably means that different cities can adopt different rules and regulations. Unfortunately, this leads to a lack of consistency overall and also leads to confusion among drivers across the UK. It’s vitally important, therefore, that communication about what is and is not allowed is crystal clear in every instance — which is why good car park signage is a must.
The UK has also been subject to legislation from the EU regarding transport in the past. Undoubtedly there are fresh challenges ahead in light of the changes that will come following Brexit and the potential for more devolution and additional mayoral appointments.
One interesting development has been the Positive Parking Agenda, which is an initiative working to enhance public awareness of parking issues. The aim is to encourage collaboration amongst local authorities to set and implement high standards. This could also have a positive impact on the private sector, and would encourage new approaches to parking issues, as well as improved communication and better management.