For most Americans, parking lots are an unavoidable part of everyday life. You navigate them while coming to and from work, getting groceries, running errands and going about your life.

Even though we spend so much time in them, it’s easy to forget that parking lots can be dangerous – even deadly.

The perfect recipe for disaster

Parking lots are filled with hazards. Everyone’s in a hurry to find a good parking spot, get in, get out, and get on with their day. Narrow rows, tight corners, obstructed lines of sight, confusing one-ways and unclear signage can lead to disorganized traffic patterns. Pedestrians, children, strollers and shopping carts are in constant motion. Many drivers are distracted by their cellphones – talking, texting or looking at their GPS.

All told, these factors create an environment ripe for accidents.

As drivers and pedestrians, we often fail to take these dangers seriously. We’re too busy or distracted to give our surroundings our full attention. According to one recent survey, half of respondents felt comfortable texting, talking on the phone, sending emails and even watching videos while driving through parking lots. We mistakenly think that, because traffic is moving at such slow speeds, we don’t have to drive as safely as we would on city streets or highways.

What the statistics say

The data paints an alarming picture. One in five accidents happens in a parking lot, according to the National Safety Council. Even though the bulk of these accidents involve low speeds, they still have significant consequences. Roughly 60,000 people nationwide are injured in parking lot accidents every year, and 500 are killed.

How can you avoid becoming a statistic?

Of course, you can’t stay out of parking lots entirely, but we can all benefit from regular reminders of how to stay safe. For example:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings, whether you’re driving or walking through a parking lot. Put your phone down.
  • As a pedestrian, don’t assume that drivers see you. Don’t cross in front of a moving vehicle without making eye contact, and keep a watchful eye for cars backing out.
  • Look both ways before pulling out of a parking spot. Avoid spots that are too tight. Likewise, steer clear of those that have pillars, light posts or other visual obstructions.

By following these commonsense tips, we can all do our part in making parking lots safer.