I have always thought that in order to know how a criminal works and acts, it’s good to think like a criminal.
That method of thinking is nothing new, nothing you probably haven’t heard before.
There have been plenty of documented cases of law abiding citizens being assaulted, robbed, and even killed at public rest stops. Many of these rest stops throughout America are dark, somewhat deserted, and frequented mainly by those looking to prey on those people who don’t think bad things happen at rest stops. Many people think that because rest stops are public places, they are safe. Unfortunately for the many who have been victimized, they were wrong and learned that lesson the hard way.
Criminals also realize that people who are stopping at rest stops are tired, perhaps weaker physically and mentally because of the road, and their minds are not focused on safety and security.
A thought occurred to me recently while I was driving alone on a road trip and made a quick bathroom and stretch break at a highway rest stop. I’ll let you know now that nothing bad happened to me, so I am sorry to disappoint you if you were looking for a great shootout article.
This rest stop where I stopped wasn’t one of those big fancy ones with a Starbucks café and a nicely dressed restroom attendant. (Do those really exist?) It was, however, a very nice, clean, quiet rest stop in the middle of nowhere. You may know the type: just off the highway in a half wooded area among a few hundred pine trees, with a few picnic tables and garbage cans strewn about, and a large map in front stating, “You are here!”
As I drove up to the rest stop and parked the car, being the very alert and aware person that I am, I took a mental note of the other vehicles in the parking lot. I noticed the few people standing around their cars, walking in and out of the rest stop building. I spotted an older man walking his dog. I noticed that it was eleven o’clock at night, it was very dark, and it was in the middle of nowhere. My alert level was pretty high and I wasn’t even out of my car yet.
Criminals who prey on citizens at rest stops are the same type you would encounter on any neighborhood street. They know that half-deserted rest stops in the middle of nowhere are poorly patrolled by police and have no security to speak of.
They also know people who stop there are traveling, which means they are most likely carrying money. Criminals also realize that people who are stopping at rest stops are tired, perhaps weaker physically and mentally because of the road, and their minds are not focused on safety and security. This is a prime picking for those looking to score.
Having this knowledge, it was understood that the hair on my neck was standing up and my alert level was high. Before I exited my vehicle, I took special note of the coming and going vehicles, their occupants and their length of stay. I kept an eye on my rear view mirrors to see if anyone was around or close to my car. Now, this doesn’t mean that I stayed in my car for hours waiting for the right moment to go to the bathroom. It means that I waited about three or four minutes, just to get a good look and feel to what was going on around the area.
Don’t be afraid to always look over your shoulder, turn and look behind you, and see what and who is around you. It makes no difference if you make someone else uncomfortable in a public restroom by looking around…
The people coming in and out looked like average men, women and kids. An elderly couple, a family of five, a young couple with a dog, and so on. They weren’t wearing any signs that read “criminal.” I saw no stereotypical gang members flying their colors, no scruffy-looking punks, no drug deals going down, and no gun fights about to break out. Everything looked normal, which could be good or could be quite deceiving. What is normal to one person may not be normal to another. Let’s just say there was nothing about the situation that lead me to believe anything bad was happening or going to happen.
But my safety and security radar was still up and running. I exited my vehicle and walked toward the building, keeping my eyes open and making sure to observe my surroundings. The building was well lit inside and out, and the glass door and walls made it easy to see inside before I entered.
I walked into the men’s room and observed that it was empty. There were three doors directly in front, one for the men, one for the women, and one to a utility closet. A vending machine was to the right and a bench was off to the left. However, I never took for granted that I was really alone. I use what is around me to make sure my safety and security was intact.
If I have to use the stalls, I always make sure not to use the last stall so as not to corner or trap myself. If I use the urinal, I use the reflection in the chrome pipes to see around and behind me. Don’t be afraid to always look over your shoulder, turn and look behind you, and see what and who is around you. It makes no difference if you make someone else uncomfortable in a public restroom by looking around; your safety is much more important than someone else’s feelings.
I did my business quickly and left the restroom. I know what you are thinking and of course I washed my hands! I walked out of the building and back to my car without incident. I told you this was no shootout article. By the way, my handgun was always at my side, my attention was always highly alert and my senses were at the top of their game.
Look up. A simple common sense thing to do, yet most people don’t even think of it and generally never do no matter where they are.
In addition to the general mindset of being alert and aware, here are a few tips for rest stop safety and security:
If possible, do not use rest stops, period. It may be safer to use a more public option such as a gas station or a restaurant. Always remember, though, that the dangers can be the same no matter where you are.
Pay attention to how many people are in the restroom, where they are and what they are doing. Listen to people entering the restroom. Are they whispering? Are they making plans? Does it seem suspicious? Use all of your senses to help maintain your security.
Buy a small rearview mirror like those sold in automotive stores. The mirror can be used if you are in a stall and need to see outside into the main restroom, so you will know if a potential attacker is lying in wait for you. It may look strange to others, but this is your safety we are talking about.
It is a good idea to always take your kids in the restroom with you no matter what their age. Don’t let them go alone, don’t leave them in your vehicle and don’t let them run around the area alone. It only takes a few seconds for someone to scoop up a child and be on the highway and out of sight in no time. Another idea is to take your kids into the stall with you. Have them use the bathroom and if you have to go, have them turn around. It’s better this way than to have something happen to them.
If you are a couple with no kids, it’s a good idea to let one person go to the restroom and the other stand outside the doorway. This is just in case one or the other is in need of assistance.
As you enter the restroom, look around for alternate escape routes in case you need to get away quickly. Many restrooms and rest stops do not have windows or a second exit. Be aware that the door you entered could be the only exit.
Check the doorway before you enter the restroom, just like you should any door anywhere, and when you exit a stall or the restroom, check again. This could prove to be serious blunder if you just walk through without paying attention to what or who is to the side or in front of the door.
Look up. A simple common sense thing to do, yet most people don’t even think of it and generally never do no matter where they are. If you are outside the restroom, by the trees or the building, take a look up. Criminals could be up in a tree, on the roof of the rest stop or inside on a ceiling rafter waiting to jump down on top of you. This will take you by complete surprise and could prove to be fatal. Don’t think it doesn’t happen, because it does.
If you don’t already carry a flashlight, take one with you whether you are going into the rest stop or walking your dog by the trees. Even in daylight, a flashlight can prove to be helpful. You can use it as a defense tool or if someone turns the power off to the building.
Stopping at a highway rest stop or using a public restroom should be like anything else you do. It takes common sense and being aware of what is going on around you and being prepared for what could happen. Don’t let the simplest task of going to the restroom make you complacent with your safety and security.