The busiest shopping season of the year is here: the three short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition to the crowds in the stores, we’re facing more traffic in store and mall parking lots as well.

And that means an increased risk of auto accidents.

 

Here are some tips from AAA on how to survive those holiday shopping expeditions.

Head for the side door, not the main entrance. Most people want to be as close to the main entrance of the mall or stores as possible. But most malls have several entrances farther away that are likely to be less crowded. Choose one of these and you’ll find less traffic and more convenient spaces.

Aim for the outfield. Outlying areas have more spaces, lighter traffic and a lower risk of collision. Plus, a little extra walking can be good for us, especially with all the holiday treats around. The trade-off for parking farther away is that the spaces may not be as secure or well lit. The spaces themselves might also be narrower, making it difficult to open your car door or pull out of the space easily.

See and be seen. It’s a good idea to use your headlights in parking lots and garages at all times. According to AAA, research shows that, even in daytime, keeping your headlights on makes your car more visible and reduces your crash risk.

Don’t put yourself in a tight spot. Avoid parking between a pair of tall SUVs or minivans where it might be difficult for you to back out of the space. If you can’t see well enough to back out safely, ask a passenger or bystander for help.

Don’t back out. If possible, avoid backing out of a space by either backing into it or driving forward through two spaces that are nose to nose. In some places, however, backing into spaces and moving traffic is illegal and can impede traffic flow, doing more harm than good.

Mom & kids in crosswalkLook out for little ones. Children can be difficult to see in busy parking lots, especially in a rear view mirror, and they often make quick, unpredictable movements. Hold their hands at all times to keep them safe from traffic, and to help drivers be aware of the child’s presence.

Stay alert and in the crosswalk on foot. Pedestrians should always use walkways and crosswalks, even if it means walking a little farther. If there are no walkways, and you must walk in the traffic lanes, be alert for subtle cues, such as car exhaust or brake or back-up lights. These signal that a car is about to pull out—and the driver may not be able to see you. If you’re the one behind the wheel, always be on the lookout for pedestrians, especially hard-to-see little ones.

Don’t let a thief steal your gifts. Place packages and shopping bags in the trunk so that they won’t be visible to thieves. If you have an SUV, use the cargo cover if you have one. It takes a thief mere seconds to smash a window and steal your holiday buys. And no one really pays attention to the car alarm, right?

Buckle up! The injury you avoid could be your own. Even low speed collisions can result in injuries and damage to your car. Make sure that everyone is strapped in a seatbelt or a child seat while the car is in motion, even if you’re only going from one area of the parking lot to another.

It’s easy to forget about the dangers of parking lots in the holiday rush. By staying alert and taking a few precautions, AAA says, you can avoid accidents and injuries. As a bonus, parking lot smarts will save you time, energy and gas dollars—which most of us can’t afford to waste this holiday season.