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Blog: Are women-only parking spaces really necessary?

A number of countries now offer female drivers dedicated parking spots. But do women really need this kind of 'help'? Maria McCarthy investigates.

Female-only parking space in Cologne Germany

Jokes about women's ability to park are 10 a penny. 

But in some parts of the world, the idea that women have different requirements when it comes to parking is being taken seriously.

As a result, in a number of countries, the fairer sex have been provided with dedicated parking spaces. 

This is the case not only in places as far-flung as China, Kuwait, Malaysia and Indonesia, but also now in Germany and Italy. 

'Bright pink outline'

The most recent case to hit the news was in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, where the city has introduced wider, longer parking spaces for women.

Dubbed "she spots", they are marked with bright pink outlines and a skirted woman logo.

Back in 2012, Gallus Strobel, the mayor of Triberg in south-west Germany, caused outrage when he decided that the town's trickiest parking spaces should be reserved for men only.

He said spaces should be painted with a male or female symbol depending on their perceived difficulty. 

'Sexes should be treated equally'

Unsurprisingly, the concept has prompted outrage from many women drivers and motoring groups. 

"We think it's very patronising for women to be singled out in this way," says Susan TP-Jamieson, president of the British Women Racing Drivers Club.

"In this country, both sexes are treated equally, taught equally and should conduct themselves in vehicles equally. 

"It would be very sad if this were introduced into the UK."

Woman 'may lack confidence'

Kathy Higgins, director of Insight 2 Drive driving school agrees. 

She says some women may lack confidence when it comes to parking because of negative messages from society. 

"It's a form of oppression that's been internalised. I have seen many men who are rubbish at parking."

But is there any truth in the idea that parking ability may have some link to gender and abilities such as spatial awareness?

Is there really a gender difference?

I have a confession to make.

In 2012 I appeared on the BBC Breakfast programme to talk about female-only parking spaces in Germany and was asked if I thought that men or women were best at parking.

I was forced to admit that drawing from my own experience, my male friends and acquaintances tended to be better at parking than my female ones.

I also mentioned research by Dr Claudia Wolf of Ruhr University in Germany, who carried out a study in which women took on average 20 seconds longer to park an Audi A6 than the men.

But beside me on the sofa was Neil Beeson, a driving instructor who had analysed CCTV footage of motorists parking in NCP car parks.

Study shows women better at parking

Beeson said the footage showed that women were the better parkers.

Carefree woman in car driving

Although their first attempt to get into the space wasn't typically as accurate as men's, they were more likely to carry out a "reposition shuffle" to line up and get a better final position in the centre of the bay. 

Another factor to bear in mind about parking is practice – like anything, the more you do it the better you become.

Most men are aware that society expects them to be capable parkers, so they won't fight shy of squeezing into tight spaces. 

Whereas some women (and I'm including myself here) don't worry about being judged and will drive further to find a more generous spot. 

Though of course, generous spots are increasingly hard to come by. 

A better solution?

Geraldine Herbert, from website Wheels for Women, which provides car reviews for women, by women, makes a very valid point:

"Instead of sexist parking spaces it would be far more useful to increase the parking space allocated to all cars as many are simply too small for modern cars."

So maybe the answer is for all of us, both male and female, to focus on improving our parking skills? After all, a recent poll by Confused.com found 41% of drivers admit they can't park.

If anyone does feel they have got rusty then they should have top-up lessons with a qualified instructor. Then they will soon be parking with confidence.

What do you think?

Are women-only parking spaces really necessary?

We want to hear from you! You can share your views on our message board below.

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Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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