Larger cars struggling to squeeze into standard sized parking spaces

August 15, 2023

busy car park

The size of a standard car parking space may be about to grow to keep pace with the ever-increasing width and length of cars.

The dimensions of a standard parking space were prescribed 50 years ago and over the last half century cars have become increasingly bloated. Safety features like side-impact bars have contributed towards the increasing size of cars, but a fashion for heavier, wider and taller SUVs has exacerbated the problem in recent years.

Cars are getting bigger. An appetite for creature comforts like air conditioning and electric windows has helped pile on the pounds, but it's the car occupant safety features that have seen the family runabout become ever more tank-like. Everybody wants to remain safe on the roads, but the bigger and heavier the next car, the more robust your own vehicle needs to be. You need only look at how the original mini, or Fiat 500 or VW Golf have become bloated in their middle age. Unfortunately, the real losers are those outside the cars.


So serious is the threat from heavier cars - driven largely by the current fashion for SUVs - that The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) has called for a ban on SUVs in towns and cities in a bid to cut cyclist and pedestrian fatalities. The risk of severe injury or death for a pedestrian is higher in collisions with Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and vans compared to passenger cars because of the way they are designed: SUVs and vans are stiffer, they have higher bumpers and are heavier.”

Those welcoming calls for increasing the prescribed size for a standard parking space - which would also affect existing car parks - overlook one simple fact. Larger car parking spaces will result in fewer car parking spaces.

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Bigger is not always better

When the German-British statistician and economist Ernst Schumacher said “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction", he was making the case for human-scale, decentralised and appropriate technologies. It's a shame car makers did not take note.

Sometimes referred to as a micro car, a quadricycle is a four-wheeled vehicle with an unladen mass not more than 400 kg (excluding batteries if it is an electric vehicle) and whose maximum continuous rated power does not exceed 15 kW.

There is a perception that large, heavy cars such as 4X4s are safe, but they pose an increased risk to pedestrian in the event of a collision. Quadricycles on the other hand are designed to operate in urban areas at low speeds and their low weight makes them less of a risk to pedestrians and less damaging to the road surface. In fact, in areas where people live and work, there's a strong argument that any vehicle larger, heavier and faster than a quadricycle poses an unacceptable risk.

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