Your Personal Safety While Traveling
Personal safety is little thought of by most people unless they have been a victim of crime prior in their lives. When people travel the highways, they do not know of the dangers that can be involved, instead their minds are filled with thoughts of their destination, packing for the trip and what they will be doing once the trip is over. Many think that there will be a law enforcement officer every mile to rescue them if they get in trouble. Actually the reverse is true and one’s personal safety is up to the individual.
Serial killers, robbers, scammers and car jackers abound on the highways; because these crimes are usually local in nature, unless it is a very active serial killer, the reports of the crime are unknown outside of any one area or region. When you drive through any area you become a potential victim of these types of crime.
The first and foremost rule to remain safe on a personal level is to always be aware of your surroundings. This may mean that you look for suspicious people lurking, dark alleys or slow moving cars. Crime can happen in any neighborhood, but look out for the bad ones especially.
Identifying Bad Areas
One might think that bars on windows, stripped cars, run down neighborhoods, graffiti,
abandoned warehouses etc. would be good indicators of a bad/dangerous area, and they are. However, any area can be a bad area to be in. Criminals are more mobile than ever these days and can come anywhere to find easy pickings.
Malls, new warehouses, truck stops, restaurants, residential areas, new factories and all sorts of types of non threatening areas can make you feel too safe to be safe. Always
keep your guard up, no matter what time of day it is or where you are.
We are going to look at what you can do before and during your trip or travels even around home to keep yourself safe.
Let’s get started…
Yourself, Your Vehicle and Your Trip
Your Vehicle Pre-trip Inspection/Regular Maintenance
In the week before you are going to be leaving on your trip, or every two-three months even if you are not planning a trip, take your car to a shop and have it checked out. Most cars require an oil change every 3-4000 miles. Have your oil changed before your trip and have the mechanic check the car’s other fluids, fan belts, radiator and engine for leaks, exhaust system and the tires. Also, if you do not know how to check your oil and water levels, have the mechanic show you how…and how to change the tire if it goes flat. Have any repairs done that the mechanic sees necessary. While at the shop, buy a quart or two of oil and a gallon of antifreeze to carry in your trunk.
Hopefully when you first purchased your current vehicle you filled the tank and then figured your fuel mileage for a tank of fuel. If you have not done this, do so before leaving out on your trip. Also, when traveling, fill your tank when you start out and then never let it go below a quarter of a tank before filling it again (do not allow fuel to go below ½ a tank in the winter). Check the car’s oil and water at every fill up. Also, check your tires at least visually for any bulges, loose tread or if they are squatting which might indicate low pressure.
You should have some sort of emergency equipment such as flares, rectangles, flashlight with extra batteries, blanket and first aid kit in your vehicle at all times. I also suggest that you invest in a safety colored vest; they are not very expensive and will make you more visible if you have to be outside of your car at night. You should also have a white piece of cloth to hang on your car if you need assistance or to indicate you are broken down.
A cell phone is a must in these days and it is fairly cheap to get a small plan or a disposable phone. Most cell phones will reach 911 even if it is showing no signal or if the battery is low. Make sure you keep it with you at all times and keep it charged up.
If you are traveling during the winter months, a winter kit is absolutely necessary. A winter kit consists of:
A heavy blanket or sleeping bag for each person in the car.
Water…at least 1 gallon per person.
Snacks such as peanut butter, crackers, canned meat and fruit.
Several emergency candles and a tin can to make a little heater if broken down…leave the window cracked a little bit if you use this.
A book or hobby to work on to relieve boredom if you have to stop for weather or breakdown.
Toilet paper and a large container with a lid for bodily functions if stranded on the road away from facilities.
An ice scraper.
A small bag of kitty litter or sand for traction if stuck.
A small collapsible shovel.
You might be wondering why you would need any of the above equipment or information if you are not planning an extended trip, but are just going to the store. I live near Kansas City Missouri; several years ago, a serial rapist was working around Kansas City by spotting women broken down along side of the road who were standing outside of their vehicle. He would come along in his van and then drag the woman inside, take her away and kill her.
Women are not the only targets of bad guys; men too are abducted, robbed and killed while broken down alongside of the road especially if the man appears to be of a higher income.
Besides criminal activity, any time you break down on the side of the road, your possibility of being hit by another vehicle increases.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure as Benjamin Franklin once said.
Pre-planning Your Trip
There is more to pre-planning your trip than plugging in your gps, adding the address and going. While a gps system may be able to tell you where to buy fuel, eat or stay, does that give you a visual idea of where you are going or where you are at? No, it does not.
Buy a map or an atlas. Take a look at where you are going and check out the highways you will be traveling.
A tip about highway numbers and mile markers; even numbered highways/interstates run east and west, odd numbers run north and south and 3 digit numbers mean connector interstates or loops around towns or cities. Mile markers go up when you go north or east, down if you are going south or west.
When you look at your atlas or map and may be traveling through mountains, check the elevations listed on the map near the highway you will be traveling. If there is a high elevation mentioned, this will alert you that there may be a steep grade on the highway. High elevations also mean that you may run into adverse weather; it can snow in the mountains in the middle of summer. Knowing this information allows you to check into the weather ahead of you so you can adjust your route or park early to avoid it if it is going to be bad.
If you do not have a gps system, write down your route in large letters in a notebook or on a piece of paper so you can read it easily.
Exits are marked by little white boxes on maps and atlases and usually have a mile marker number on them for interstate travel. As you approach an exit, there will usually be signs noting gas stations, motels and restaurants.
Check online if you are online for motels on your route. You can determine if you will need to stay overnight during your trip by figuring the miles from the atlas. On your atlas along major routes, you will see little red arrows and numbers along the highway/interstate between them. This tells you the miles between the two arrows. Add those up, use the mile markers or look in the back for the miles between where you are starting and where you are going, when you come up with the miles for that trip or leg of your journey, divide it by 60 miles per hour which is what you will realistically average on the interstate system with fuel stops and bathroom breaks. Use 50 miles per hour if traveling two lane highways. The result will give you the hours you will be driving during that leg or length of road.
If you are not online, in your phone book there should be reservation numbers for motel chains. While these may be a little more expensive than a mom and pop motel, the service will be more uniform at the chains. Make your reservations ahead of time; in this way you are not tired and trying to find a room and will not have to drive past your fatigue level.
If you are just taking a road trip and have no real destination in mind or have time to sightsee along the way, an atlas can provide a lot of information.
Excerpt from my article Driver’s Tool…
Unless one is lucky enough to have a laptop, what one tool that a driver has provides tourist information, geography, geology and history lessons, knowledge about state/federal laws, humor, locations to pursue hobbies, where one can find a restroom and how to get from point A to B along with the miles and hours it will take to get there? You got it, an atlas.
If you are running over the weekend and have time to kill or are stuck in Podunkville USA where there is just a little fuel stop and nothing to do, check out your atlas to find interesting places such as historic sites, state parks, museums and even a casino or two that you might be near enough to visit. If you have hobbies such as golfing, fishing, or rock collecting, there are some locations noted on the maps that you might be able to get to, to enjoy your hobby.
History lives on the pages of an atlas. In it, you can find where Mark Twain was born (and it wasn’t Hannibal Missouri either), and where the Presidents really slept at their homes. Indian reservations are delineated and show the small areas these proud people were squeezed into. Major battleground locations from the Civil war, Indian wars, Revolutionary war and Mexican wars are shown. On a more somber note, you can find national cemeteries where you can pay your respects to the fallen soldiers of those wars. If you are a veteran, you can find military bases to visit the PX in an atlas (so much for homeland security). Along the route the Pony Express rode, you will still find a few of their change out stops still in existence as museums or historical sites.
Looking closely at your atlas, you will find noted names and elevations of mountains, terrains and passes to alert you to possible steep climbs and down hills. The geographical center of the US is found marked along with the continental divides, eastern, western and north/south. Some hot springs are found mapped also.
You can trace the rivers from their headwater beginnings to their mouths and deltas. Of course, you can find where the deserts are so you can stock up on water, food and fuel for your arid trek. Watch for the little green dots along a route…you can be sure that it will be an adventure to travel that route as it is designated a ‘scenic’ route for good reason and will most likely have some pretty interesting curves and challenges along the way!
Need to take a break? Don’t know where to stop for sure along your route? You can find a place in a glance by just looking for the little house or picnic table shaped icons along the highways. Remember though that only the solid blue houses have restroom facilities, if the house is only outlined in blue or it is a picnic table, facilities other than a possible place to park are not to be found there.
My favorite thing to do when sitting and have nothing to read is to pull down the atlas and find some funny named towns such as: Muleshoe, TX, Jugtown, PA, Lackawanna, NY, Boring, OR, Waterproof, LA, Mummie, KY and my all time personal favorite, Bucksnort, TN. I don’t know what it is about Bucksnort, TN, but every time I go by that exit I just have to smile!...
An atlas also has another use beyond the obvious; placed across the steering wheel when stopped, it makes a great table.
Another good tool to have with you on any trip is an exit guide. This book can be found at almost any truck stop and some convenience stores and lists available services at each exit. This is invaluable if you break down.
Always start out your trip after a good night’s sleep; yes, I know that you are excited about it, have tons of things to do before leaving and may only have a short time to do the trip, but starting out fresh will save your life.
After you pre-plan your trip; give your route, stopping places and information about your car such as VIN number, description and license plate number to a close family member or friend. (Someone in your family should have this information even if you are not going on a trip and are just driving around your area.) Set up check call times
and call on-time each day. This way, if something happens and you do not call, your family member or friend can
immediately alert law enforcement that you are missing and where you were at the last check call and what route you were taking.
This is why it is better to make reservations for motels ahead of time, so you can tell someone where you are stopping for the night. If you are going to be just stopping for the night randomly, then make sure that as soon as you check in, you call your contact person and give them the information. This is especially important for people who are traveling alone.
Do not take any medicine that can make you drowsy.
Eat lightly. Do not eat a large meal before you leave. Some people get sleepy after they eat a big meal.
Take breaks. Stop every hour or so when you need to. Walk around, get some fresh air, and have some coffee, soda, or juice. The few minutes spent on a rest break can save your life. Plan for plenty of time to complete your trip safely.
Try not to drive late at night when you are normally asleep. Your body thinks it is time to go to sleep and will try to do so.
Never drive if you are sleepy. It is better to stop and sleep for a few hours than to take a chance on staying awake. If possible, switch driving tasks with another driver so you can sleep while they drive.
Many health problems can affect your driving - a bad cold, infection, virus, etc. Even little problems like a stiff neck, a cough, or a sore leg can affect your driving. If you are not feeling well and need to go somewhere, let someone else
Emotions can have a great affect on your driving. You may not be able to drive well if you are overly worried, excited, afraid, angry, or depressed.
If you are angry or excited, give yourself time to cool off. If necessary, take a short walk, but stay off the road until you have calmed down.
If you are worried, down or upset about something, try to keep your mind on your driving. Some find that listening to the radio helps.
If you are impatient, give yourself extra time for your driving trip. Leave a few minutes early. If you have plenty of time, you may not tend to speed or do other things that can get you a traffic ticket or cause a crash. Don’t be impatient to wait for a train to cross in front of you. Driving around lowered gates or trying to beat a train can be fatal.
Drinking and Driving
Alcohol is involved in more than 40 percent of the traffic crashes in which someone is killed. If you drink alcohol, even a little, your chances of being in an accident are much greater than if you had not had any alcohol.
No one can drink alcohol and drive safely, even if they have been driving for many years. New drivers are more affected by alcohol than experienced drivers because they are still learning to drive.
Because drinking alcohol and then driving is so dangerous, the penalties are very tough. People who drive after drinking risk heavy fines, higher insurance rates, loss of license, and even jail sentences.
Why is Drinking and Driving So Dangerous? Alcohol reduces all of the important skills you need to drive safely. Alcohol goes from your stomach to your blood and to all parts of your body. Alcohol affects those areas of your brain that control judgment and skill. This is one reason why drinking alcohol is so dangerous: it affects your judgment. You do not know when you have had too much to drink until it is too late. It is a little like a sunburn, by the time you feel it, it is already too
late. Good judgment is important to driving.
Alcohol slows your reflexes and reaction time, reduces your ability to see clearly, and makes you less alert. As the amount of alcohol in your body increases, your judgment worsens and your skills decrease. You will have trouble judging distances, speeds, and the movement of other vehicles. You will also have trouble controlling your vehicle.
Alcohol and You
If You Drink, When Can You Drive? The best advice is if you drink alcohol - do not drive. Any amount of alcohol can affect your driving. You may be impaired and could be arrested for operating under the influence of alcohol. In most states, people under 21 years old could be considered impaired after having only one drink of alcohol.
An alcohol drink is: 1.5 oz. of 80-proof liquor (one shot glass) straight or with a mixer, 12 oz. of beer (a regular size can, bottle, mug, or glass), or a 5 oz. glass of wine. Specialty drinks can have more alcohol in them and are the same as having several normal drinks.
There is no way to sober up quickly. Coffee, fresh air, exercise, or cold showers will not help. Time is the only thing that will sober you up.
There are ways of dealing with social drinking situations. Arrange to go with other people and agree which one of you will not drink alcohol. You can rotate among the group to be a “designated driver.” You can also use public transportation or a cab if available. Do NOT drink and drive!
Drugs and Driving
Besides alcohol, there are many other drugs that can affect a person’s ability to drive safely. These drugs can have effects like those of alcohol, or even worse. This is true of many prescription drugs, and even many over-the-counter drugs. Drugs taken for headaches, colds, hay fever or other allergies or those to calm nerves can make a person drowsy and can affect their driving. Other prescription drugs can affect your reflexes, judgment, vision and alertness in ways similar to alcohol.
If you are driving, check the label before you take a drug for warnings about its effect(s). If you are not sure whether it is safe to take the drug and drive, ask your doctor or pharmacist about any side effects.
Never drink alcohol while you are taking other drugs. These drugs could multiply the effects of alcohol or have additional effects of their own. These effects not only reduce your ability to be a safe driver, but could also cause serious health problems - even death.
Money, Security and Miscelaneous
During your trip, it is better to stop at a drive thru banking facility in good neighborhoods to get any money needed than to get the money at a gas station. Try to only keep the money you need for the day on you, it is better to use a debit card or credit card for purchases than to carry a lot of cash. Watch for anyone paying too close attention to you while at the ATM and do not flash your money around.
Try to avoid going out of your room after dark if you are staying at a motel. Do any shopping or purchasing during daylight hours. If you are alone and do have to go out after dark, drive and park as close to the building you are going to as possible. Check with the motel clerk for good areas to go to and bad areas locally to stay out of.
Be aware of your surroundings and the people in it. If anyone is paying too close attention to you or your car, drive on. Keeping your doors locked and windows up would appear to be a no brainer especially at night in unfamiliar areas; you would not believe how many people from out of state I see in my travels driving on urban streets with their windows down.
If you get lost, do not stop and ask a pedestrian especially at night; instead find a fire department or open business to go in and ask how to get where you want to go. If you are in a big city, it is worthwhile to buy a city guide instead of depending on gps only.
When you exit your car, always lock it and close the windows all of the way. Do not leave luggage, briefcases, laptops or purses in visible sight if you are doing more than running in to pay for your gas or grab a drink. Look around to see if there is anyone watching you.
Avoid telling any stranger where you are staying in town or in giving out too much personal information.
When you get ready to leave whatever building you are in, stop just outside of the door and look around, if there is anything you see going on that looks suspicious, go back inside and ask the manager to watch you go to your car or call 911. When you leave the building, have your keys in your hand ready to unlock your car door. Get in the car quickly and immediately lock the doors again. Do not linger, drive away.
When you return to your motel/hotel, check to make sure that there is no one lurking around the motel or in the hallways. Have your room key ready and enter your room quickly. Do not think that because you have to walk thru the lobby to get to your room that you are safe; there could be anyone in the hallways or in other rooms that have criminal acts in mind. Use all of the locks on your door.
If someone you are not expecting comes to your room door, do not assume that it really is housekeeping or room service unless you have called them. If you are in doubt, ask them their name and call the desk to make sure it is who they say they are. If there is a peep hole, use it.
If you have valuables, ask the desk clerk if they have a safe to keep them in.
Do not wear flashy jewelry.
Never pick up hitch-hikers. That person with their thumb out may look clean, safe or harmless, but may very well be a criminal looking to rob you. Do not be fooled by them traveling with their pets either.
Stopping for another broken down traveler is human nature, but it is very unsafe to do. There is a big scam that has been around for years it goes like this: a car is sitting on the shoulder with the hood up. A woman is standing by the car looking desperate. You stop to assist. A man jumps out from the bushes or from under the car and robs you.
In recent times, this scam has been reported having 2 women do the robbing instead of a woman and a man. It is better to dial 911 and report a disabled vehicle than to stop.
This year, a new scam has started being reported. You stop at a rest area; as you leave another car waves and honks at you indicating you may have a flat or whatever. When you stop on the shoulder, they pull in behind you and either rob you or steal your car.
Rest areas themselves are dangerous places especially at night. Never stop at a rest area if there are no other vehicles there or just one and get out of your car. Always check for anyone lurking around before exiting your car. Never go past the building or go behind it for any reason after dark. Check the restroom as you enter for other people or to see if someone is lurking there. Keep your car locked.
It is better if you are sleepy to stop and take a nap, but if you have a choice between a rest area and a shopping mall, take the shopping mall. If the weather is cold to where you will need to run your car’s engine while taking a nap, make sure to keep a window cracked.
You may be approached at a rest area or gas station by a pan handler. Many of these people have plausible stories about breaking down or being hungry. Do not fall for it; if you really feel like being generous, offer to buy them a meal if in a town, or offer them food if you have it in the car, but never give them money for any reason.
People may also approach you selling something; in no way should you buy anything from these people. Believe me, the jewelry will turn your skin green and whatever else is probably stolen. One scam we are seeing is where someone offers to sell you something; when you hand them the money for it, they grab the money and run.
Dress comfortably for your trip. If you are female though, dress conservatively. On the road in rest areas, truck stops and streets, prostitutes are to be found; do not get yourself confused with them. Also, ladies, we truckers can see into your car’s passenger area; if you do not want to attract undo attention, do not flaunt body parts.