Almost half of all B.C. car crashes are happening inside parking lots or involving parked cars – the greatest proportion in at least two decades, according to a review of data by CTV News.

Some 83,000 cars were damaged while parked or while in parking lots in 2013 – up 32 per cent from 1996 – a problem made worse by growing cars and shrinking parking stalls, experts say.

“It’s a tighter stall than it was 15 years ago now that all these SUVs are in the mix,” said transportation consultant Mary Smith.

ICBC provided data on crashes in the Lower Mainland stretching back to 1996. Total crashes haven’t changed much, from about 160,000 in 1996 to 170,000 in 2013.

However, the crashes in parking lots or involving parked vehicles have jumped from 63,000 in 1996 to 83,000 in 2013.

That’s an increase from about 40 per cent to 48 per cent – meaning crashes in parking lots make up nearly half of all crashes in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

No wonder – drivers are getting squeezed by smaller lots and larger cars.

Several cities contacted by CTV News confirmed that the minimum size of a parking stall hasn’t changed in decades.

But the cost of land has gone up, which is a major incentive for developers that might have built larger lots to only build the minimum.

For example: Canada Place opened in 1986 for Expo. CTV News measured its stall sizes – they are about 8 feet, 5 inches wide, or about 2.56 meters.

But the Convention Centre West building, which opened in 2009 before the Vancouver Olympics, has smaller lots. We found its stalls were a couple inches smaller at just 8 feet, 3 inches wide – the smallest lot allowable by Vancouver rules.

When transportation engineer George Poulos looks at that, he says there’s only one explanation: money.

“There is such a premium on space. It’s so expensive to provide parking and there are so many other things you could be doing with that space,” he said.

There are differences between cities when it comes to the minimum lot size. While the minimum width is 98” in Vancouver and the City of North Vancouver, or 8 feet 2 inches, it grows in Burnaby to about 8 foot 6 inches.

The District of North Vancouver and Richmond mandate a minimum of 8 foot 10 inches, while Coquitlam and Surrey have minimum width of 9 and a half feet.

The other factor is that we’re buying bigger cars – and those cars are getting bigger too.

Light trucks now make up around 50 per cent of the market in the US. And a top selling truck – the Ford F-150 – has actually grown in size by about 23 per cent width and 14 per cent length since 1991.

The 2015 version of the F-150 is now 6.19 meters by 2.46 meters – exactly the width of a Vancouver parking stall, and about 70 centimeters too long.

But it’s not just big trucks. A review found that even smaller cars like the VW Golf got bigger by 4 per cent since 2001.

And a bigger car is harder to move in a smaller space, said Mary Smith of Walker Parking, an Indianapolis-based transportation consultancy.

“More than anything else, the size of cars, the size of the stall, it’s lack of visibility that’s going to lead to a crash,” she said.

She said that the change of car sizes really happened in the late 1990s, but the accidents may be growing as older, smaller cars are phased out and the larger trucks become more popular.

Smith is part of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, which saw the trend of larger cars and recommended an increase of the minimum parking stall width by 3 inches to 9 feet.

“Most zoning ordinances never changed and a lot of people just build for the zoning ordinance,” she said.

No Lower Mainland city contacted by CTV News said they had changed their bylaws accordingly.

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