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Parking on Hills – Know This for Your DMV Test

Parking on a hill - California DMV

For Your DMV Test: Know How to Park on Hills

Parking on hills is a common pitfall on many practical driving tests, as well as the DMV written knowledge test.

First, remember that parking on hills or grades is not illegal, unless posted signs or painted curbs say otherwise. You must, however, always make sure that your vehicle is not a hazard when it is parked.

A parked vehicle must be far enough from any travel lane to avoid interfering with traffic. It must also be clearly visible to vehicles approaching from either direction. Do not park in locations where others can’t see your car, such as just beyond a curve or close to a crest.

You must also know how to stop your car from rolling into a travel lane. In a state like California, you can get a ticket if you don’t angle your front wheels correctly when parking on a 3% (or more) grade.

Parking on Hills – General Rule

Whenever you park your car on a hill you must turn off the engine, set the parking brake, and lock the ignition.

You must also turn the front wheels so that your car will not roll into to traffic if brakes fail.

 General rule – turn wheels to the right

The general rule when parking on hills is to turn the front wheels to the right, which means to the side of the road and away from the travel lane.

If your car starts rolling, it will usually roll away from the travel lane and off the road. If you turn the front wheels the other way (away from the side and toward the travel lane), your car, or at least a part of it, will roll into the travel lane.

There is one exception to this general rule.

 Uphill and a curb – turn wheels to the left

The only time the front wheels should be turned to the left and toward the travel lane, is when you park uphill and there is a curb.

A Curb Will Stop the Car

When you park uphill and there is a curb, you turn the wheels to the left and away from the curb.

Before you set the parking brake, you may want to let the car roll back a few inches and hit the curb. The curb will then act as a second parking brake and stop your car from rolling any further.

It is a good idea to try this yourself on a steep hill. Park uphill on a roadway with a curb. Make sure it is in a safe location where you don’t interfere with traffic. Turn front wheels the correct way (to the left), put your gear in neutral, and release your parking brake. Have someone push the car from the front, if necessary.

You will quickly see that, as soon as the back of the front wheels hit the curb, it won’t go any further.

Pointing your front wheels into the curb (to the right) means that your back wheels will eventually touch the curb, but the front of your car will stick out in a travel lane.

If you keep your wheels pointing straight ahead, your car will continue to roll down the hill until something stops it. That it is usually another car and hitting another car will cost you!

So please don’t try this unless you have full control over your vehicle, and you are sure that the way is clear behind you.

When you park downhill and there is a curb, you point your wheels toward the curb. Let your car roll forward a few inches and the wheels will touch the curb, effectively stopping your car from going anywhere if the parking brake fails.


Parking on a Hill – Summary

  • Downhill – no curb: turn wheels to the side of the road.
  • Downhill – a curb: turn wheels to the side of the road.
  • Uphill – no curb: turn wheels to the side of the road.
  • Uphill – a curb: turn wheels away from the side of the road.

Remember, whenever you park your car, you must stop your engine and set your parking brake. Leave the vehicle in gear or reverse if it has a manual transmission or in park if it has an automatic transmission.

Before getting out, remove the keys. Never leave the ignition keys in a parked vehicle. It is also a good habit to lock your doors when you leave your car unattended.

Parking Distance to a Curb

What distance should you keep to the curb?

Ideally, you should park no more than 4-6 inches from a curb and in no state should you park more than 18 inches from the curb.

In many states (Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon etc.), you must park within 12 inches.

If you prepare for your state’s knowledge test, it might be a good idea to look up the distance in your driver’s manual. These kinds of questions are not uncommon on the official license exam.

Frequent Questions and Answers

If you park uphill and there is a curb, you should turn your front wheels away from the curb (to the left). The curb will stop the car from rolling into a travel lane. If there is no curb, turn the wheels the other way so that the car rolls off the street if the parking brake fails.

When facing downhill you should always turn your front wheels away from the travel lane and toward the curb or street edge. Your car will then run into the curb or off the street if the parking brake fails.

You must never park more than 18 inches from a curb or street edge. In many states, the laws is even stricter and says you must park within 12 inches. Most practical is to park about 6 inches from a curb or street edge.

Ideally, you should park about 4 to 6 inches from a curb or street edge. Frequently running into curbs when you park can damage your tires, so it is best to keep some distance to the curb.

You may park on a hill or grade as long as:

  • No signs or curb markings prohibit parking
  • You don't interfere with traffic
  • Your vehicle is clearly visible from all directions

If your wheels point straight ahead and parking brake fails, your car will start rolling down the hill. It will continue to roll until something stops it and that is usually another car. In most cases, you will be responsible for paying the damages.

The general rule is to always turn your wheels away from the travel lane. Parking uphill on a street with curbs is the only exception to this rule. Before you park, always try to imagine which way your car will roll if the parking brake fails. You should never allow it to roll into a travel lane.

50 Practice Tests for Your State

When preparing for your state’s official knowledge test, we recommend that you take several practice tests to verify your progress.


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  1. How does the car roll backwards so the wheels touch the curb when you park uphill? Did you put it in reverse or in neutral?

    • Depends on how steep the grade is. If it is a steep hill, putting the car in neutral can be enough. Otherwise, you may want to put it in reverse and lightly use the gas. Your wheels should move back and just barely touch the curb. Don’t let them move onto the curb,

  2. This question really confuses me. ???

  3. 3Rd point in bullets needs clarifying. Why. Is it even correct?

    • It is correct. Without a curb, the back of your car will roll into the street if you turn the wheels to the left. Turn them the other way – and there is a better chance that most (if not all) of your car will roll away from the street.

      Most State Manuals have this information. Also a common topic on DMV knowledge tests, as well as the behind-the-wheel test.

  4. This lecture about parking uphill and downhill seldom appear. I have been looking for this lecture many times I open this website. Never stop browsing this website until your queries are satisfied.

    • I was taught in driver ed class….many moons ago, to always (under anyall) cercumstanses to turn the wheels to the right. Reason being…. if the car was hit, wether it be from the back OR the front — it would keep the vehicle from
      going into the road and avoiding any cars. So my question is: Why would it be that if on a hill, that the wheels should be turned left? Wouldn’t that send the car out into traffic if someone should hit the car from the front?

      • Basically, you turn your wheels to the right in all situations, except one: parking uphill with a curb.

        The reason is that the curb will act as a second parking brake. Back of your front wheels will hit the curb and stop the car, if it should start rolling OR if it is hit from the front (a very unlikely scenario, but still).

        What if the car is hit from the rear? Yes, the front of your car could be pushed out into the travel lane. Since you are parked uphill the speed will be very low and your car won’t go very far. Most likely the parking brake will stop it from going anywhere at all. Since it is more likely that your car will roll backwards for any number of reasons, it is more important to safeguard yourself for that scenario.

        This information is nowadays found in most driver’s manuals. For New York it is found on page 57 (2015 edition). Correct parking on hills is part of many theory tests as well as road tests.


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