With the current parking shortage, it makes it difficult for truck drivers to find a safe place to park and sleep. Truck drivers are often faced with the choice between Hours of Service (HOS) violations or traffic fines. Many drivers will pull over to an on-ramp, shoulder, truck stop, or rest area on the highway.
Unfortunately, most rest areas or truck stops are poorly lit areas and can be prone to accidents and crime. Although some states allow overnight stays at rest areas, most states have laws against extended parking times. With the lack of security personnel and quick access to highways, this makes truck stops appealing to criminals who prey on unsuspecting truck drivers.
Even in well-lit, premium parking areas at truck stops, naïve or unalert drivers can become a victim of a scam. Fatigue and frustration can often cause tempers to flare, increasing in the risk of accidents and crime. Knowing how to keep yourself and your load safe is an important skill.
Tips for Safe Parking at Truck Areas
With the poor lighting at some rest areas, this may not be accommodating to big rigs. Also, it is important to know which states allow drivers to park overnight and which states consider extended stays illegal. Below are some tips for safe parking at truck rest areas:
Follow State Laws
Currently, only a few states allow visitors to stay the night. They include:
- New Mexico
- New York
Keep in mind, even in states that allow overnight parking, additional restrictions may apply. For example, Connecticut only allows extended stays in rest areas that are just off the Illinois toll road. Indiana has the same restriction for the Indiana toll road. Also, Ohio drivers are only permitted overnight stays along the Ohio Turnpike.
Other states place time limits or conditional restrictions on truck rest area stays. For example New York, you are only allowed to stay overnight at a rest area if it is an emergency. Ohio limits each stay to a maximum of 14 hours, and Wyoming limits vary depending on the rest area.
Park Near Other Drivers
When stopping, try to avoid rest areas that appear deserted or isolated. There is always safety in numbers. Whenever possible, park near other trucks. If a thief is aware that help is close by, they may be less likely to target you or your truck.
Carry Protective Devices
Pepper spray can be an important prevention. Other drivers opt to carry a club, knife, or gun. Regardless of the defensive mechanism you choose, make sure you know how to use it. Being inexperienced with a knife, gun, or pepper spray, you can seriously harm yourself or it can be used against you. If you carry a firearm, ensure you have the proper permits for it. It is also a good idea to consider conceal or open carry laws for which states you travel through.
Choose Pull-Through Parking
If you do run into trouble, you need to be able to leave quickly. Pull-through parking helps reduce the time you need to pull out of the rest area. If you cannot locate this type of parking area, back into an area that will allow you to pull out easily.
Can You Sleep at Rest Stops?
When a hotel is not an option, truck stops are usually the best choice for an overnight stay. Many chains have food, showering facilities, laundry, and other amenities available for drivers. However, parking space is at a premium. In high-traffic areas, the limited number of truck parking spaces often fill by 6 p.m. or earlier.
Use Apps to Locate Safe Parking
Careful planning and using apps like Trucker Path Bro or Park My Truck can help you locate the safest parking options. Trucker Path Bro works with the Trucker Path app and Facebook Messenger. Users indicate the city where they will stop for the night and receive reports from other drivers on available parking spaces in the area. Park My Truck uses similar reporting methods to provide information on over 5,000 independent and chain truck stops across the United States.
Beware of anyone who tries to lure you away from your truck. One driver in a trucking forum mentioned being approached by a man. The man began describing a dramatic altercation between another driver and a fuel clerk. He asked the driver to watch it with him. Trusting his instincts, the driver remained in his truck. Soon, another man approached him and tried to get him to leave again. When he flatly refused, the man left.
Not long afterward, the driver noticed the same pair targeting the truck next to him. This time, the men convinced the second driver to go with them. The first driver intervened, warning that the pair planned to rob the other driver. Both scammers left abruptly after this confrontation.
To prevent problems like this, always lock your truck immediately after leaving it. Keep your trailer locked as well to protect your load. Follow your gut; it is better to be cautious than to become a victim.
Keeping Female Drivers Safe
Like it or not, women drivers are at higher risk in rest areas and truck stops. Team driving can discourage potential attackers who may not want to deal with a second person. If you are a solo driver, insinuating that someone is sleeping in the berth can also be a deterrent for troublemakers.
Carrying yourself confidently and speaking directly to anyone who appears to be following you sends a signal to attackers that messing with you will not be easy. Make direct eye contact and speak clearly with an authoritative tone. It is also recommended to carry a noise alarm, pepper spray, or a small taser.
Being a Good Neighbor
The danger does not always come from outsiders. A worn-out, hot-headed driver can do significant damage in tight quarters. If someone who is parked next to you is having trouble, consider lending a hand. Acting as a spotter can foster goodwill and keep your load from getting rammed.
If you are the one who is tired, and frustrated, stop for a moment. Take slow, deep breaths in, then exhale completely. Repeat this exercise a few times. Deep breaths oxygenate the brain and help you shift from an instinctual fight-or-flight mode back to logical thinking.
More Safety Tips for Overnight Rest Periods
There are a few additional steps you can take to keep yourself safe while at a rest stop. Consider these options.
- Travel with a pet. Ask any driver with an animal companion – They will likely have at least one story about their pet warning them of trouble.
- Carry a charged cell phone with you any time you leave your rig, even if you are only performing a routine check.
- Avoid accessing ATMs when someone is loitering nearby.
- Report suspicious activity to travel center employees. Any good truck stop chain is interested in keeping their customers safe.
- Scan the area before you get out of your truck. If you see signs of suspicious activity, leave immediately. Contact the highway patrol if necessary.
It is tempting to let your guard down when you are parking for the night. However, staying alert can prevent a tragedy. Knowing how to protect yourself and assess dangerous situations can safely help you get your load to your next destination.