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Despite the growing popularity of online shopping, many holiday shoppers still prefer the experience of going to the local mall. As we head into the Christmas shopping season, here's an important fact that most people probably don't know: 20 percent of car crashes occur in parking lots and parking garages.

These aren't just minor fender benders. On average, 60,000 people are injured and 500 are killed each year in parking garages and lots, according to recent numbers from the National Safety Council.

A major reason for these crashes is distracted driving. While drivers may put away the smartphone while they're on the road, they feel more comfortable making phone calls or texting in a parking area. The NSC found that two-thirds of drivers talk on their phone while parking and over half text.

The Automobile Association of America recommends that drivers refrain from any type of distracted driving until they are safely parked. Aside from the proximity of other cars, parking areas are filled in pedestrians, who may themselves be distracted by their phones or other things and not be as attentive as they should be. A vehicle-pedestrian crash, even at a few miles an hour, can have tragic results.

Both drivers and pedestrians would benefit by following AAA's safety tips while in the parking lot or structure of your favorite shopping center.

Besides engaging in distracted driving, those behind the wheel should:

-- Make sure everyone keeps their seatbelt on until you're parked.

-- Turn your headlights on in a parking garage to increase your visibility.

-- Choose less busy areas of the lot whether than battling for a space near the entrance.

-- Avoid parking so that you have to reverse to get out of your space.

People walking to or from their vehicle can reduce their chances of injury if they:

-- Refrain from using their smartphones.

-- Use marked crosswalks wherever possible.

-- Be aware of taillights, exhaust and other signs that a vehicle is backing up, particularly if there's a large vehicle blocking your view of what's down the lane.

If you're involved in an accident in a parking facility, even if the injuries and damage seem minor at the time, it's important to gather as much evidence as possible. If the injuries and/or damage turn out to be significant, you may need to pursue legal action against the at-fault driver.

Source: WTOP, "Black Friday shoppers reminded: Safety first in the parking lot," Jack Pointer, Nov. 23, 2016

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