Yesterday, I was going out with a friend. We were looking for parking in a small city (population ~30,000) in the northeastern United States at around 6:00 PM, and things were fairly crowded. After 20 minutes, we saw that a woman was walking towards her car, parked in a roadside spot. She saw us and seemed to indicate that she would be leaving; she got in the car alone and turned on the ignition, then put on her lights. She then sat in the car for three minutes without moving; I didn't have a good enough view to see what she was doing.

We waited until a nearby light changed and more traffic headed our way (on road with two lanes on either side). We were about to just give up and drive away when the woman suddenly pulled out of the spot. We then successfully parallel-parked.

In hindsight, we would have liked to have asked the woman if she would be leaving soon, rather than waiting and potentially blocking traffic (at which point we would of course have left). However, we couldn't think of a good way to do this.

  • We could honk, but that wouldn't be clear and would probably be rude. I prefer not to honk out of annoyance, only in dangerous situations.
  • One person could get out of the car and walk onto the sidewalk, but there was little room to safely open a door. Plus, this isn't possible when there's only one person in the car.
  • We could pull alongside her and ask, but we would then have to back up to get the spot, and it's possible that someone would move in behind us. Additionally, her windows were down.

Is there a polite (and of course safe) way for us to ask another driver in this situation if they will be leaving the spot? I don't want to ask her (or tell her) to move; I just want to ask if she will be leaving the spot soon.

Here's a diagram of the situation, as per WeaselADAPT's request:

Diagram of situation
click to embiggen

The yellow arrows indicate the direction of traffic.


4 Answers 4


Sounding horn is definitely rude in such a context. The woman was in her car in a parking spot, not blocking traffic.

She took a while to get going, and that's probably her getting ready with her phone, GPS, radio or something. Or maybe she received a text or call and decided to answer it before starting her trip. It's safer that way.

In such situations, I would recommend you wait for a while, just like you did, or move away and find another spot in case you're about to cause a traffic block.

Any effort to reach out to her would have some risks, and of them, you already mentioned some.

I case there's ample room to open the door and safely walk up to her car, you may do so, and a nice approach would be to politely knock on her window, and if she looks at you or opens the window, ask or gesture to her.

Excuse me, I was looking for a parking spot. Are you about to leave?

And as always, with a smile.

And I suppose these etiquettes are universal. I'm in Dubai.


She saw us and seemed to indicate that she would be leaving

If I'm unsure if a person is leaving, I wave and point toward the space. Most people who are just sitting will either wave me on to look elsewhere or get moving a little more quickly.

Chances are pretty good that she knew your intentions, she was probably just getting situated before driving off.

Sometimes our modern conveniences aren't as convenient as we'd like... Think about the checklist of things that many people go through when they first get in their cars.

  1. Seatbelt
  2. Set the GPS
  3. Connect the Bluetooth
  4. Pick music
  5. Adjust the AC
  6. And so on...

What I'm saying is that it's likely that most people who see another car hovering near their soon to be vacant space know the deal. It just takes a minute for some people to get underway.

  • Yep, this. I had it recently when I was on holiday, driving a hire car in France (so driving on the opposite side of the road/car to what I'm used to as a Brit), and someone wanted my space. I tried to leave quickly, getting my wife to set up the GPS etc, and I panicked and stalled the car twice. Whoops!
    – AndyT
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 16:18
  • @Catija kinda seems like I got dinged for writing style... What's up?
    – apaul
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 18:18
  • I didn't actually downvote the answer, so I can't "correct" any "ding" you have experienced. I think it's important to remember that we need to answer questions. Hiding the actual answer at the end makes it seem like an afterthought (to me). You also need to remember to support your answer with an explanation of why it will work or experiences with the situation. Waving requires that the person can see you, which the rest of your answer seems to say they won't see you because they're busy.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 18:23
  • @Catija - Yes. And in this case, they won't likely see you waving because according to the picture/drawing, they are parked ahead, facing away. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 1:41

I thought I shared my parking experiences in NYC. I had to parallel park in really crowded roads many times. It can be rather stressful.

I am assuming you had your parking lights on indicating you aren't part of that flow of traffic. This helps other drivers know that you are looking for parking and/or you have found a spot. Most drivers are understanding as they have been in your situation.

You said that the woman saw you. This means the woman knows you are looking for a spot. There is a good chance she will be accommodating. Most drivers are because, again, they have been in your situation.

Option 1: You pull over and wait, like you did in the picture.

Option 2: (I've seen this happen quite often in NYC) If you made eye-contact and she's not too far from you, before she gets in her car, you quickly roll down your window and without having to shout you say something like

Excuse me ma'am, are you leaving?, Mind if I take your spot?

If the answer is

Not leaving yet


It will be a while

you say thank you and drive away. You have just saved yourself some time.

If you weren't able to ask her before she got in her car,

Option 3: The moment she's in her car, you pull alongside, roll down your car's passenger's window and either you or your friend say something like:

Excuse me miss/ma'am, are you leaving/pulling out?

I would not ask how soon or how long even though I had people ask me:

Excuse me miss/ma'am, mind asking if you are about to leave?

Usually, saying "Excuse me", "Mind if I ask.." and "Sir/Ma'am" makes the question more polite.

If the windows are down you can gesture for her to roll down her windows from inside your car indicating that you want to ask a question, perhaps gently knocking on your window so you grab her attention. Most drivers will roll down their window. Then you ask her politely.

  • One problem is that in this case, she really didn't make the OP wait that long, but if they asked and she said "It will be a while", they might have given up the spot and left too soon and missed the opportunity to use her spot. But, well, it is a "balancing act" that you'll win sometimes and lose sometimes. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 1:49

The key question would be, how long can you wait right there before you begin to block the flow of traffic going in your direction?

Because, the woman is not required to leave anytime soon and you said that it is not really feasible to ask her.

Since her car is already "on the spot" she shall decide when to leave. If you can wait that long without blocking traffic, then you get the spot.

Or else you must move on!

  • From the looks of the picture/drawing, there is plenty of room for others to go around the waiting car. I'd say, wait as long as you're comfortable doing so. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 1:51
  • @KevinFegan I doubt there is that much room, and other drivers should not have to cross the double yellow for someone waiting for a spot.
    – Andy
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 19:04

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