Although highway departments and law enforcement agencies do all they can to make rest areas as safe as possible, travelers need to be alert to the growing incidence of crime at these locations. Even in areas where there have been no previous problems with violent crimes, opportunistic criminals are likely to prey on the unsuspecting.
Obviously, the most dangerous time to use any highway rest area is after dark. The later the hour, the higher the potential for danger. That risk is underscored by the fact that many truckers will only use rest area bathrooms if they have other truckers to accompany them. Criminals see rest areas as an opportunity to surprise the unwary and tired traveler, who will probably be carrying money or credit cards.
The severity of rest area crime runs the gamut from petty theft – such as wallets being snatched from purses hanging on hooks in restroom stalls – to strong-armed robbery and muggings – all the way to carjacking and homicide. Law enforcement authorities unanimously agree on the potential for danger: “When most people pull into a rest area they have their guard down. They’re intent on using the restroom, getting a cup of coffee, a soda or a snack. They want to get in and out and get back on the road, and many don’t pay much attention to what’s going on around them.”
Experts suggest that for maximum safety at rest areas, you should:
- Avoid highway rest stops altogether after 12 midnight.
- Only park your vehicle in well-lit areas.
- If you are traveling with someone, accompany each other to the restroom area.
- Always lock your vehicle, and have your keys ready when you return to it.
- As you approach your vehicle, look around and under the vehicle, and glance into the back seat before getting in.