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Autobesity: The Great British Parking Squeeze

Published 28 May 2024

The image of a driver contorting themselves out of a tiny parking space is a familiar one. But in the UK, it’s becoming a frustrating reality. Car sizes are ballooning, while parking spaces remain stubbornly stuck in the past, leading to a growing problem.

Shrinking Spaces, Expanding Cars

On one hand, we have parking space dimensions set in a bygone era – a typical on-street space is a mere 1.8 metres wide, while off-street parking is recommended at 2.4 metres. These were perfect for Minis and Fiestas, but today’s car landscape is dominated by SUVs and larger family cars. Research shows the average new car has widened by over 2 centimetres in just five years, with many exceeding recommended bay sizes.

A Cascade of Problems

This mismatch creates a cascade of issues. Drivers of larger vehicles struggle to park without damaging their own car or their neighbours’. Tight spaces also make it difficult for people with mobility issues to get in and out safely.

Beyond Convenience: Environmental Concerns

The issue goes beyond mere driver convenience. The rise of SUVs, despite advancements, tends to correlate with lower fuel efficiency. Encouraging a shift towards smaller, more sustainable vehicles could be part of the solution.

Finding a Solution

The UK’s parking predicament requires a multifaceted approach. Updating parking space regulations, promoting alternative modes of transport, and even influencing consumer preferences for car size are all potential avenues. Only by finding a way to bridge the gap between growing cars and shrinking spaces can we ensure a smoother parking experience for everyone.

Luxury Car Struggles

Luxury models from major brands often struggle in standard bays. A recent study found over 160 cars exceeding the standard UK parking space size, with some exceeding the width by more than 30cm, making it difficult to even open the doors.  Experts have termed this phenomenon “autobesity.”

The Rise of Car-Park Accidents

Parking accidents have surged, with estimates suggesting a 35% increase since 2014. This translates to roughly 1,859 incidents daily, costing Britons a staggering £1.4 billion annually.

The SUV Boom and the Shrinking Space

The popularity of SUVs, with their robust build and elevated driving position, adds to the parking conundrum. Luxury SUVs, in particular, often make fitting into standard bays nearly impossible.

Parking Operators Respond, But Controversy Follows

The largest private car park operator, NCP, has begun widening spaces to accommodate larger vehicles. However, this has sparked debate. Drivers of smaller cars feel the pinch as the number of spaces shrinks to fit their oversized counterparts. Finding the right balance between demand and available space, especially in busy areas, remains a challenge.

The Way Forward

As the automotive industry evolves, so must our parking infrastructure. Revisiting parking bay dimensions to reflect today’s vehicle realities is a must. Whether through wider spaces, improved design, or innovative solutions, addressing the oversized car issue is crucial for smoother parking and fewer costly repairs.

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