Noe Valley Voice February 1998

How I Put the Brakes on My Uncurbed Wheels

By Erin O'Briant

When I first started driving in San Francisco, I never curbed my wheels. Natives of the city warned me that I'd get a parking ticket, but I'd never heard of curbing your wheels and I didn't feel like doing it. Besides, the car was in park and the emergency brake was on, so what could go wrong?

Of course, eventually I had to break down and get a California driver's license (my original license was from Georgia, a state where you could get a license just by holding the wheel and stepping on the gas at the same time). When I went to the DMV, I was surprised to see a whole section of the California Driver Handbook devoted to parking on a hill. And sure enough, it said I had to curb my wheels.

So I started curbing them. And when I heard about the terrible thing that happened to a pedestrian on the Sanchez Street Hill a couple of months ago, I was really glad I did.

On the morning of Nov. 3, a man walking down the sidewalk on Sanchez near 21st Street was struck by a runaway van. According to the Channel 2 news and the San Francisco Chronicle, prior to the accident the van was parked on Sanchez Street but was resting against a car parked in front of it.

When the driver of the car pulled out of her space, the van broke free, rolled onto the sidewalk, and hit the pedestrian. The victim, a 53-year-old man who lived in the Upper Market area, underwent sur-gery at San Francisco General Hospital that night. But he later died from his injuries.

To get to my point: There's a good chance the van took off because it didn't have its wheels curbed properly. And if the van had been parked correctly, that man who was walking along Sanchez at just the wrong moment might still be alive.

Community Police Officer Lois Perillo checked the books for me and says it is illegal to park on a grade of more than 3% without setting the brake and blocking the wheels by turning them against the curb. Most San Francisco drivers don't know the exact law, though, because the California Driver Handbook fails to specify that cars parked downhill must have the front tire touching the curb. (It also does not mention the 3% grade.) However, the manual gives the following tips:

First, to park your vehicle properly on an incline, be sure to park in gear. For automatics, use the "park" position. Every parked vehicle should have the emergency brake set, the guide says.

When you park headed uphill, turn your front wheels away from the curb and let your vehicle roll back a bit until the rear of one front tire touches the curb.

For downhill parking, turn your front wheels into the curb and roll forward until one front tire touches the curb.

Officer Perillo points out that when the wheels actually touch the curb, the car has less chance to build up the momentum that could cause it to roll out of control.

"In curbing your wheels, what you're really doing is showing concern for the safety of your neighbors," Perillo says. From her experience, most people in Noe Valley routinely curb their wheels.

Considering the amount of damage a runaway vehicle can do, Perillo thinks the parking ticket for uncurbed wheels, $23, is surprisingly low. Now I guess I do too.

Until I started investigating this story, I didn't know my wheels were supposed to actually touch the curb, and I certainly didn't know about parking on a 3% grade. I also had no idea how much my curbside manners could affect others.

From now on -- remembering that a man in our neighborhood lost his life, possibly due to someone's carelessness-- I'm not getting out of my car until my wheels are properly curbed.