One in four parent and child parking spaces is misused by motorists, according to new research which monitored public attitudes towards the dedicated spaces.
While observers recorded a quarter of spaces being used by drivers who didn’t have children with them, 29 per cent of motorists admitted misusing the bays at some point, with excuses ranging from “it was late at night” to “I wanted to park close to the store”.
The study by Confused.com looked at motorists’ attitudes towards parent and child spaces as well as the impact their misuse can have on families.
Confused sent researches to observe parent and child bays in supermarkets up and down the country, finding one in four drivers using them didn’t have children with them. England’s north east saw the most regular abuse, with 64 per cent of people misusing the bays. The lowest was in the South West, with only five per cent of people parking incorrectly.
The study asked drivers if they misused the spaces and their reasons for doing so. More than a quarter (29 per cent) said they had misused them - 21 per cent were parents who didn’t have their children with them.
The most common excuse, given by a third of people, was that it was late at night and the driver didn’t expect there to be any parents around. The next most common was that there were plenty of parent and child bays free (31 per cent), while 29 per cent of people couldn’t find any other spaces.
A quarter of people said they thought it was okay to misuse the spaces as they were only using it for a few minutes, while a lazy 21 per cent simply wanted to park near the store. However, 14 per cent said they were Blue Badge holders who couldn’t find a dedicated disabled space.
Difficult for parents
The research also asked parents what impact not being able to use a dedicated space had on them.
More than half (54 per cent) said they had struggled to get their child in or out of the car without the extra width of the parent and child bays. A quarter said they had had to carry their child across a busy car park because they could not get a space near the store entrance. More than a third said they had given up and left the car park rather than struggle in a regular space. And almost two thirds said they had witnessed spaces being misused while they couldn't find a space.
Although some people admitted to knowingly misusing the spaces, others said the rules around parent and child bays were confusing, with one in seven not clear on when you can or can’t use them.
Using a parent and child space when you don’t have a child with you is not illegal but, as supermarket car parks are privately operated, some chains will charge you if they think you’re misusing the space.
As part of its research, Confused asked all of the major supermarket chains to explain their policies regarding the dedicated spaces. All said that the bays were intended for use by parents who were accompanied by a child under the age of 12 or still using a booster seat. Only Tesco made any reference to pregnant women using the spaces, saying it was up to staff at individual stores to decide whether it was allowed.
When it comes to fines and enforcing the rules around the bays, each chain has a different approach:
Parent and child parking bay misuse is handled by the store itself and fines would be issued by the car park operators.
An external agency monitors Asda’s car parks. Regular checks are conducted to enforce parking regulations. If someone has parked incorrectly they will be issued with a parking charge.
If someone is discovered parking incorrectly they are politely asked to move, or a sign is placed on their windscreen.
An external agency will issue a parking charge notice (PCN) to anyone wrongly parked.
If a customer has noticed someone misusing a parent and child bay they are encouraged to report it to the store manager. However, they are unable to enforce this as there are limited staff in store.
Lidl does not have the facilities to monitor the use of parent and child parking bays. They strongly rely on the honesty of customers to park correctly.
Alex Kindred, car insurance expert at Confused.com, commented: “Taking the kids shopping is a battle without the added stress of trying to find somewhere suitable to park.
“The rules are very clear: if you aren’t travelling with a child, don’t use the parent and child parking spaces, unless you have a very valid reason to.
“However, our research has proven that there are still many drivers who are confused about the rules. If you see someone wrongly using a parent and child parking space, you can report it using the details in our guide.”