The Washington state driving test includes parallel parking. You can parallel park on the street with real cars. Or you could park between four tall plastic poles (called stanchions) in a parking lot. You should take your test at a testing location where they parallel park between four poles instead of on the street.
Why? Because when you parallel park between four poles, it is much harder to get an automatic failure. (Learn more about automatic failures here). The two methods are scored very differently.
Hitting a car is an automatic failure, and can be costly
Whenever you hit another car, you fail your driving test instantly. You won’t even get to finish the test. The examiner will direct you back to the testing location (aka The Drive of Shame). You’ll have to try again another time, and pay for another test.
If the testing location has you parallel park on the street, you will be parking with real cars. You’ll be maneuvering very close to them, which increases the risk of hitting one. Therefore, when you parallel park between real cars, you run the risk of hitting a car and failing.
This makes the “real cars” scenario much more stressful. Because of the added risk of hitting a car, it is a high stakes maneuver. One bad move and you can fail the test and be responsible for damage you may have caused.
Hitting the four plastic poles is not an automatic failure
When you hit the plastic poles, it’s not an automatic failure. It’s only a four-point point deduction! You lose four points, and the test continues. As long as you do well on the rest of the test, hitting a pole is no big deal.
The poles are placed at fixed distances from each other. The poles should make a rectangle that is 25 feet by 7 feet.
The benefit of the fixed regulation distance is the fact that it makes it easier to practice. You know how big the space should be, and you can make your own practice area. You might even be able to “borrow” an existing setup at a local testing location, such as a driving school or DOL office.
Downsides to parallel parking between four poles
There are some downsides to parallel parking between four poles, though.
Without other cars to use as reference points, it is harder to accurately judge your car’s position in the space as well as the distance between the car and the cones. This increases your chances of parking too far from the curb or not being centered in the space.
It is also harder to line up properly at the beginning, before you start backing into the space, because there isn’t a car in front of the space for you to stop next to. This makes it harder to start with your car squared up to the space. This increases your chances of backing into the space at an awkward angle that is hard to correct.
It can also be difficult to see the poles behind you, which increases your chances of hitting a pole or driving too far backwards.
How to find out if a testing location uses four poles
Here are some ways you can find out whether a particular driving school or testing location uses four poles for parallel parking:
- Drive by during business hours and look for poles set up in the parking lot. You’ll often see them in a far corner of the parking lot, away from traffic. You might also find them behind the building.
- Talk to other people who have taken their test there, and ask them about it
- Call the testing location and ask them
Learn how to pass the Washington State Driving Test
Check out our online courses that show you how to pass the Washington state driving test. We offer a free version, which sends five free lessons to your email inbox. The free version gives a nice overview of what to expect on the course.
You can also enroll in the premium version of Washington State Driving Test. The premium version includes nine video tutorials that demonstrate exactly what to do, and what not to do, on each part of the driving test.