The winter weather conditions, combined with the holiday and end-of-the-year shopping sprees, increase the potential for fender-benders and parking lot accidents. Local law enforcement sites several obstructions as the major causes for these accidents.
“Accidents occurring in parking lots is very common during the winter months and often times you have people trying to squeeze into parking spots or sort of making their own parking spots when the lot is covered with snow,” Deputy Armando Avina, public information officer for the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, said. “Drivers really need to use extra caution because there is lots of foot traffic and very limited visibility, especially when it is snowing.”
Avina said the WCSO does not often police parking lot accidents due to private property. He said the parking lot actually offers a safer environment in terms of speed, compared to the speeds offered on major roadways, and said when officers do respond they find the cause of the accident immediately.
“Most of the accidents that do get reported are due to someone backing out of a spot,” he said. “You have very limited visibility when backing up and many of the spots are a tight fit. Backing out when seemingly nobody is coming toward you is often the mistake that causes an accident.”
Robert Villegas, media specialist for State Farm Insurance, said the company’s studies have shown a 20 percent increase in parking lot accidents during the holiday season. He said the potential hazards offered in parking lots during the summer months are only amplified when the roads become slick.
“During the holidays it is very congested with people who are in a hurry, and when it is getting dark earlier or snowing or there is ice some of those close calls actually become accidents because of people’s inability to stop the car as quickly as they do during summer,” Villegas said. “Our research also shows that this is the most dangerous time for new drivers such as teens who have just gotten their license. Those drivers often don’t know how to handle the roads during winter and have not yet learned to manage the weather conditions.”
Of all the distractions, pedestrians pose a major threat to motorists due to lack of crosswalks outside of commercial stores. Avina said whether a crosswalk is present or not both drivers and pedestrians should act as if the other is not going to stop.
“Understand that whether a pedestrian has the right of way or not we all have to look out for one another,” Avina said. “Just because there is a crosswalk we don’t recommend people just step out into the street until they are sure that vehicle has completely stopped. The main thing is that we all share the roadway and drivers need to be aware that it will be congested and much more foot traffic during the holidays.”
In the event an accident does occur, Villegas said the process for acquiring the proper information is the same whether you are at fault or not. He said ensuring you have the right information makes filing an insurance claim or police report much easier.
“It is always safety first and making sure everyone involved is uninjured and you should never hit another car and then leave the scene because it is a criminal offense,” Villegas said. “With technology these days the simplest solution is to photograph the damage to both vehicles with your phone. Having a photo of both vehicles, the other person’s name, phone number and insurance information will help your insurance carrier be able to contact the other person’s.”
Villegas said in cases where the driver of the other vehicle is not present it is best to leave your name and appropriate phone number only. He added that if both parties are present during the accident but one party insists on leaving, a name and a photograph of the license plate will aid the insurance companies.
The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office also reminds residents not to leave valuables in plain sight while parked on city streets. Vehicle burglaries are common during the holiday shopping season and cars should remain locked and valuables should be hidden at all times.