Robot Cars Parallel Park Better Than You

And yet most American drivers want to do it themselves

BMW i3 demonstrating its parallel parking system

BMW i3 parallel parking better than you


We’ve all eyeballed a parking space at the curb and decided to go for it, despite the fact that it’s a bit too small for our car, or maybe traffic is heavy and might rush our perfect parallel parking job. According to a new study by AAA and the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, we think we can nail that parking challenge. Almost 80% of drivers in the study said they were confident in their parallel parking abilities, and only about 25% said they’d trust a self-parking system to help them.

But guess what? We’re terrible judges of our parallel parking skills.

The study used vehicles with self-parking systems and vehicles equipped with just the standard back-up camera to see how drivers did with each. It turned out drivers using the park-assist vehicles had 81% fewer curb strikes -- that’s an 81% reduction in that horrible scraping sound of rims against concrete. The self-parking systems were able to settle into the spot using about half as many maneuvers, so they weren’t spending five minutes doing the front-and-back shimmy to work themselves into place, even though the humans had backup cameras to help them in the comparison vehicles. And the self-parking systems were able to get the vehicles 37% closer to the curb.

This last point is where we humans might actually be a touch better. AAA recommends parking 6-8 inches from the curb, which frankly we aren’t consistently good at either. But manufacturers have programmed the cars to snug right up to the curb -- as little as a half inch away in some cases -- which can damage tires and rims. And we human drivers can do that just fine without any robotic help, thank you.