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Have Cars Got Wider or Parking Spaces Got Narrower?

Have Cars Got Wider or Parking Spaces Got Narrower?
In 2018, consumer group Which? revealed that a whopping 129 car models are too long to fit in a parking space. But are cars really getting bigger?
Are cars getting bigger?
Yes – cars are bigger on average now than they were 50 years ago. The first Mini was made in 1959 – 60 years ago this year – and was famous for its compact size. But the latest Mini Hatch One is 53% bigger than the original.
In the 1970s two Minis would easily fit down a country lane but if you put two modern-style Minis down there now, they won’t fit.
Some of Britain’s best-loved cars launched in the 1960s and 1970s, and are still being produced today, but new models are much bigger. Here’s how the dimensions of today’s models compare to the originals:
Car First model (m) Latest model (m)  % Bigger
Mini One  1.4 x 3.0  1.9 x 3.8 53%
Fiat 500 1.3 x 3.0 1.6 x 3.6 48%
VW Golf  1.6 x 3.8 2.0 x 4.3 34%
Ford Fiesta  1.6 x 3.6 1.9 x 4.0 28%
What is the size of a UK parking space?
Typically parking bays are 4.8m x 2.4m (or 16ft x 8ft). This has been the case for decades and has stood the test of time. Often in the designs for parking places there is a balance between capacity and efficiency and the best designs provide the right balance; sufficiently wide spaces to allow easy and effective use and yet maximising the number of spaces available. Simply cramming in additional spaces is counter-productive because the parking operates inefficiently.
Type of parking bay Length (m)   Width (m)
Mixed-use  4.80  2.40
Long Stay 4.80 2.50
Short Stay  4.80  2.30
Disabled 4.80 3.60
Parent and Child  4.80  3.20
These guidelines were recommended by the Institution of Structural Engineers and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation. They only apply to off-street parking bays, like the ones in car parks and multi-storeys.
Do modern cars fit in parking spaces?
With more SUVs on the market and cars generally getting longer, many now overhang an average parking bay.
The luxurious Rolls Royce Phantom Extended Wheel Base is one of the longest cars you can buy in the UK. And at 5.98m long, it’s nudging the territory of limos. This giant overhangs a standard parking space by a huge 118cm.
But most of us don’t cruise around in a Rolls Royce. These common cars and trucks might surprise you by how much they overhang a parking space, assuming that you park with the other end right up to the end of the space:
Modern cars are getting wider too. They’ll still fit inside an off-street parking space, which is usually 2.4m wide, but you might not have much room either side. And when it comes to on-street parallel parking spaces, at 1.8m wide, many are just too big.
As one of the widest cars on the road, the Land Rover Discovery Sport would have only 16.5cm of space on either side in a parking bay. That’s not much more than the length of a Biro pen with its lid on. And that’s assuming you parked it perfectly in the middle and with its wing mirrors tucked in.
It’s no surprise that people struggle to get in and out of their cars and minor damage is so common at car parks.
The future of parking
NCP, the UK’s largest car park provider, has made some parking spaces bigger. This solves some of the parking issues that come with larger cars, but it also creates new problems.
Many UK cities don’t have enough parking. When parking bays are made larger, you can’t fit as many spaces in. So this can make the lack of parking even worse.
However, new technology might be able to help in the future.
Self-parking cars
Autonomous cars could drop drivers and passengers off at a convenient location before parking themselves in a car park.
This means you don’t need space at the side of a parked car for people to get in and out. In turn, car parks will be able to pack cars much closer together.
Even the layout of car parks could change, with cars parked in big, space-saving blocks. If you need to get a car out, the cars around it can be moved without their drivers needing to return.
Research by the University of Toronto found that car parks designed for self-parking cars could fit in up to 87% more spaces.
Automated parking systems
Also called a robotic or mechanical parking valet, this system transports cars to and from parking spaces without needing a human driver.
Instead, cars are lifted and moved around mechanically, much like boxes in a factory. This system can park cars in the smallest space available for them.
Sources: The AA, NCP, Which? British Parking Association.
Images: ShutterStcock, Corbis.
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