The current parking shortage makes it difficult for truck drivers to find a safe place to park and sleep. Truckers are faced with the choice between Hours of Service (HOS) violations or traffic fines. Many drivers pull over on to an on-ramp, shoulder, truck stops and rest areas on the highway.
Unfortunately, these poorly lit areas are prone to accidents and crime. Although a few states allow overnight stays in rest areas, most have laws against extended parking times. A lack of security personnel and quick access to highways makes these stops appealing to criminals who prey on unsuspecting truck drivers.
Even in the well-lit, premium parking areas at truck stops, naïve or unalert drivers may be taken in by scams. Fatigue and frustration can often cause tempers to flare, increasing the risk of accidents. Knowing how to keep yourself and your load safe is a vital skill.
Tips for Safe Parking at Rest Stops
Rest area parking lots often have poor lighting and may not be designed to accommodate big trucks. It is also important to know which states allow overnight parking in rest areas and in which states extended stays are illegal.
Follow State Laws
Currently, only a few states allow visitors to stay the night. They include
- New Mexico
- New York
Keep in mind that even in states where overnight parking is legal, additional restrictions may apply. For example, Connecticut only allows extended visits to rest areas just off the Illinois toll road. Indiana has the same type of restriction for the Indiana toll road, and Ohio drivers are only permitted overnight rest stops along the Ohio Turnpike.
Other states place time limits or conditional restrictions on rest area visits. For example, In New York you may stay all night at a rest area if it’s an emergency. Ohio limits each visit to a maximum of 14 hours, and Wyoming time limits vary depending on the rest area.
Park Near Other Drivers
When stopping, avoid rest areas that appear deserted or isolated. There is 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. In inexperienced hands, a knife, gun, or pepper spray 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.
Sleeping at Truck 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. 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.
Using Apps to Locate Safe Parking
Careful planning and using apps like Trucker Path Bro or Park My Truck can help you locate the safest 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 US.
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 and 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. Carrying a noise alarm, pepper spray, or a small taser is also recommended.
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 good will and keep your load from getting rammed.
If you are the one who is fatigued 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 keep yourself safe during a rest stop. Consider these options.
- Travel with a pet. Ask any driver with an animal companion, and they will likely have at least one 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 help you get your load to your destination safely.