Auto Club Advises of Holiday Mall Safety

December 6, 2004

Motorists mall-bound for holiday shopping need to stay alert, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California, to avoid fender benders, injuries or thefts that could make the holidays less than happy.

And if last year is any indication of consumers’ timing, it’s just going to get more hectic.

Approximately 41 percent of the holiday sales were rung up at registers during the last seven days before Christmas, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. With Hanukkah beginning at sundown Tuesday, the malls are sure to be extra busy.

“The closer we get to the holidays, the tougher it is for people to be patient. This is especially true in mall parking lots and streets near the malls where traffic can be frustrating,” said Steve Mazor, the Auto Club’s principal automotive engineer. “Losing patience or not staying alert behind the wheel can result in crashes in intersections and parking lots. Pedestrians also need to watch out for vehicles so a shopping expedition doesn’t turn into a tragedy. And once parked, shoppers need to take steps to avoid becoming theft victims.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that 20 percent of all collisions resulting in damage claims occur in parking lots.

As the holiday countdown continues, and mall parking lots and surrounding roads become more congested, the Auto Club offers these tips to better navigate parking lots and make safer decisions to protect themselves and their vehicles:

While shopping

— Be prepared. Anticipate that the malls will become busier with last minute holiday shoppers. Allow more time to find a parking space. Be nice and remember it may be easier to park further away than closer to shops. If it’s nighttime, park in a well-lit area.

— Head for the side door. At the mall, everyone wants to park near the stores, especially near the main entrance. But most malls have secondary entrances on the sides, and those entrances usually have less traffic and more convenient spaces.

— Time trips to the mall. Try to shop in the evenings or when stores open early in the morning.

— Don’t let a grinch steal the gifts. Don’t set oneself up for a vehicle break-in by leaving one’s purse, wallet, packages or other valuables in view while the car is parked or while driving. Put packages and shopping bags in the trunk.

— Don’t argue. If someone approaches in the parking lot with a weapon and demands a wallet, purse or car, comply. The loss of these items isn’t worth one’s health, safety or possibly life.

While driving

— Buckle up! Even a low-speed collision can result in injuries. Make sure that everyone is strapped in a seat belt or child seat while the car is in motion, even if it’s just a short trip to another part of the parking lot.

— See and be seen. Use headlights during the daytime so that other drivers will see and avoid crashes in parking lots and on the streets. Research shows that, even in daytime, keeping one’s headlights on reduces the crash risk.

— Don’t get in a tight spot. Avoid parking between a pair of tall SUVs or minivans where it might be hard to back out of the space. If parked between them, be alert and cautious and back out slowly. Get additional help from one of the passengers, if possible.

— Exercise caution. Be aware of surroundings and pay extra attention to the cars nearby, especially when backing out of a parking space.

— Check the vehicle’s equipment. Make sure the defroster or defogger is working properly. Make sure the windows are clear before backing out of the parking spot.

— Move it. Remove shopping carts that might accidentally get pushed into the car. These losses are considered insurance losses and the deductible would have to be paid – by the individual.

— Be careful. Be aware that if you’re found to be at fault in a parking lot crash, you might have to pay your collision deductible and the crash could count as a point on your motor vehicle record.

— Get the vital statistics. In the event of a crash, be sure to obtain the names, addresses, telephone numbers, insurance carriers and policy numbers of the other motorists.

While walking

— Look out for little ones. Children can be hard to see in busy parking lots and often make quick, unpredictable movements. When walking to and from the car, hold their hands to keep them safe from traffic.

— Stay “on track” and alert on foot. Pedestrians should use walkways and crosswalks, if available. If one must walk in the traffic lanes, be alert for cues – such as car exhaust or reverse lights – that signal a car is about to pull out. When behind the wheel, always be on the lookout for pedestrians and hard-to-see children.

Try alternatives

— Go high tech. Use public transportation, shop by catalog or use the Internet to avoid the shopping mall parking lots completely.

“Always be aware of your surroundings while you’re driving,” said Mazor. “The holidays are a busy time for everyone, but remember when you’re behind the wheel, your focus should always be on driving – whether you’re on the highway or in a parking lot.”

“The bottom line is, don’t let parking lot chaos or a thief ruin your holiday season,” added Mazor.

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