Safe Backing: Safety in Reverse

By Kristen Hansen
Last updated: January 16, 2024
Key Takeaways

Backing a vehicle is always riskier, but with the right approach (and preferably the help of a spotter) you can do it safely.

Driver looking behind his truck before backing.
Source: duallogic / Envato Elements

“I always thought I was really good at backing up. I was good at using my mirrors and I never backed up into anything.


I was driving a service truck on a site, and my partner and I were servicing the heavy machinery. The equipment was lined up in there rows, and we were making our way down the rows. When we finished, I noticed that we forgot to do the big excavator at the other end of the line. It was slightly off to the side, so we skipped it. I thought I would just back up to it since it would take way longer to drive around the rows of machines to get to it. I always liked to get nice and close to the machines because it means less line you have to pull out.

My partner was in the passenger seat, and asked if I wanted a spot. I told him no, stay where you are. What I didn’t see was that the boom was rotated, and the cab wasn’t lined up with the tracks. I backed into the boom, and scraped a pretty big chunk off the rear of the truck roof. Even though I was only going about 5mph, it still caused a fair amount of damage. Since then, I always use a spotter when backing up – no matter how confident I am.”


 – Brian (age 24) Service Truck Driver

Going in Reverse

Backing up any vehicle is a risky endeavor. Your visibility is compromised. If you turn your head to look back, steering feels unnatural and awkward. There are significant blind spots that you have to account for.

And of course, the bigger the vehicle, the more challenging it is to back up safely. Reversing a hatchback is difficult enough as it is – backing up a big rig takes some serious skill.

There are steps you can take, however, to be safer when backing up your vehicle.

Quick Tips for Safely Backing Up Your Vehicle

  1. Avoid backing whenever possible. While it might seem speedy to simply back into a spot, avoiding it is much safer. Use another entrance or drive in from a different direction if this means you can pull in instead of backing up. Even if this requires a slight detour, not having to slowly and carefully back your vehicle means you might still save time overall.
  2. Use demarcated parking areas. When possible, back your vehicle into a spot that has been marked for parking. This could be a parking stall or a parking spot with painted lines, but either way you will be able to use them as a visual guide for aligning your vehicle properly.
  3. Back slowly – very slowly. A lot of backing incidents happen because the driver thinks they’re going slowly, but they’re not going slow enough. Your backing speed should be no more than 5 km/h (about 3 mph). This will help you keep control over the vehicle.
  4. Avoid backing into the blindside of the vehicle. When possible, back from the driver’s side – especially when backing out of a parking stall. This will give you better visibility and help you see where you’re going.
  5. Do a walk-around first. Step out of the vehicle and scope out the area before backing. Make sure the path is clear and there are no hazards you might miss from the driver’s seat.
  6. Use your mirrors. Your rearview and side mirrors are there to help you, so make use of them. Just remember that your depth perception can be slightly altered by the mirrors, so give yourself a bit more space than you see in the mirror.
  7. Use a spotter. If there are any hazards, the spot you’re backing into is narrow, or you simply want some additional peace of mind, use a spotter when backing. The spotter should stand in your line of sight while still being able to see the back of your vehicle and the path it’s following. If you lose sight of the spotter, stop immediately and wait until they come back into view.

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