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Posted on Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

As summer tourism season heats up, keep yourself safe

By Rich Kinsey

The summer tourism season definitely is underway, and if you don't believe me, take a look at the gas prices. What a crazy coincidence that there always seems to be some oil industry-crippling crisis during peak travel times.


Rich Kinsey offers some tips to keep yourself safe during the summer travel season, including safety at rest stops.

via MLive

Whether it's a problem involving a refinery, a pipeline or some oil industry executive’s polo pony throwing a shoe, there always is a reason to drive gas prices up right when we all want to travel. But don't worry — in spite of the industry-crippling crisis there will be profits for the oil companies at the end of the year.

That being said, Michiganders should make sure to take time to travel around this great state. It helps our economy and the smiles as well as memories of some Pure Michigan summer adventures will get you through the cold January days when you're just plain sick of shoveling the snow.

When you hit the open road in search of those memories, be careful to make sure the inevitable call of nature does not cause you an unfortunate misadventure at a rest area. Rest areas can be some pretty creepy places.

When you must stop — and I suggest a short break every hour for drivers — I suggest you do so at a well-lit and busy, public gas station or fast food restaurant. There is safety in numbers and a busy place with plenty of lighting and activity is your safest bet. Deserted, dimly-lit rest areas with woods and dark corners all around them are the worst places to stop, because it is just the sort of place criminal predators like to lurk.

If you must use a rest area, Semper Cop’s crime prevention mantra should be in the back of your mind as you prepare to make your pit stop.

Lock it up. When you get out of your vehicle make sure you lock it. Take your cellphone with you and know where you are in case you need to call for help. Make a note of the mile marker or the name of the rest area you are entering when you pull off the expressway. Additionally, make sure all of your valuables are hidden or locked away as you head into the restroom area.

Don’t leave it unattended. If that "it" is an item of value, it should be locked and hidden as I stated above. If that "it" is a child, keep them close and under no circumstances should you leave them alone and unattended in your vehicle.

Hold the hand of little ones and try to locate a family-style restroom. If a family restroom is not available for you and kid, take them in the bathroom with you. Block their view, shield their eyes, do what you have to do, but keep them close and do not let them wander.

For older children, have an appropriately-gendered adult family member or sibling go with them into the bathroom. If none are available, stand guard outside the bathroom door and strike your most menacing mama or papa bear pose. If your mommy or daddy clock is sounding an alarm outside the door, call inside for your child and make sure you get some sort of verbal response. If you don't, announce yourself, your gender and that you are coming in to retrieve or check on your child — NOW!

If the "it" is a pet, leave a window cracked and do not dilly-dally, as it gets hot inside cars at an alarming rate in the summer sun. Do not forget to walk your pets in appropriate areas and be considerate and pick up after your best friend. Do not leave organic piles or “landmines” in your animal's wake, but instead pick them up and place them in the trash or pet excrement receptacle.

Be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are alone. This probably is the most important tip and starts with knowing where you are in case you need to call for help. Park your vehicle in brightly-lit areas in hours of darkness and always out in the open. Avoid parking sandwiched between larger vehicles or close to wooded areas.

Before you get out of your vehicle, simply take a look around. Are there people just hanging around? If so, that spells trouble and potential danger.

Are there lights out and darkened corners around this rest area? Are your instincts, "spider senses," or goosebumps on the back of your neck telling you you are about to enter into a situation befitting a Stephen King tale of terror? If so, you are experiencing what Gavin DeBecker describes in his excellent personal safety guide of the same name, "The Gift of Fear." My advice is to trust what he calls nature's gift and find another place if at all possible.

If this is not possible because of the less subtle urgencies nature demands of us all, get prepared. Turn your cellphone on, keep your keys in your hand and get out the pepper spray that goofy cop uncle of yours gave you and hold on to it.

Most important, when you get out of your car, square your shoulders, squint your eyes like Clint Eastwood and take a look around. Walk with purpose or amble like “the Duke ”— John Wayne. Get determined, keep your head up and walk like you are the baddest hombre in the valley, or if not the baddest, walk like you have a secret would-be criminals do not want to know. Do your duty, wash your hands and repeat the walk on your way out. Get in your vehicle, drop it in drive and “Get out of Dodge!”

Watch out for your neighbors. If it looks like someone is scared, being threatened, hassled or assaulted by another, then make your presence known. If you can't physically assist, lay on your horn so all parties know you see what is going on and call 911.

If you see anyone begging or asking for money “for gas” while holding a gas can tell them you would like to help and gladly will call the police so they can get the help they need. Do not give these people money and do not give strangers rides. Call the police who will respond to assist in any way they can.

Finally, have you ever noticed how busy the Baker Road truck stop and the rest area east of Chelsea is? The reason for this is these are the last two big stops on Interstate 94 before Detroit, where most eastbound loads are heading. The truckers will rest there overnight because they know they cannot get into many Detroit loading docks until 7 or 8 a.m.

Drive carefully and always buckle up … it’s the law.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for



Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 11:52 p.m.

Sorry if this is a dumb question, but the article mentioned several situations in which you should "call the police." Does this refer to 911 or the local police phone number? I was always under the impression that you should only call 911 for a life-threatening emergency, but what should you do if you don't know the number of the local police? Thanks!

Lynn Liston

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 1:25 p.m.

Maizie, if I were to see something or experience something at a rest stop or on the road, I would consider it appropriate to call 911 and let them sort out the level of emergency. 911 is universal in the US because people often don't have the local phone number. You can always begin your call with 'this is not a life or death emergency but ...I was shoved and my purse was stolen at rest stop # on the highway".


Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 7:40 p.m.

When I'm at rest stops along the highway I like to take all my personal belongs out of my car and leave them on the picnic tables when I go inside to use the can. Should I not be doing that? I just figure it will be ok as long as it's daylight and there's people and truckers around to watch them. I also prefer to get out of my car and walk like O Dog from Menace to Society instead of The Duke, do you think that does the trick to scare the perps? I think it's somewhat effective but maybe I should start trying to be more like The Duke instead. I always figured the Baker Rd stop was busy because they have a Popeye's chicken in there, who knew it was because they sleep there too! Wow! Great tips, I will remember all of this for the next time I go on a road trip.

Lynn Liston

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

I always thought the place was busy because late-night partiers can get a good after- midnight breakfast there. Who knew hard-working truckers were trying to get a little rest? :)

Patty Bradley

Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 7:29 p.m.

Very good advice. But I must say that I travel across the state via I-96 during the day once a month, and the rest areas are fine. Most of them have been recently replaced. There are always plenty of people in and out, not hanging around. I always take my purse and keep my head up and eyes open, but I don't think the I-96 rest areas need to be avoided. At least not during the day.


Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 5:32 p.m.

As someone who travels from Michigan to New York and back, this is some of the soundest advice I have seen about road travel. I prefer driving over flying due to the scenery. I have done this trip numerous times both ways. Anyone reading this should print a copy and tuck it in the glove box if you do drive on long trips. I would like to add something to this as well based on experience. If you spot a car on the side of the road with the flashers on in a dark area ( like the middle of the mountains in Pennsylvania ) and someone waving you down for help don't stop. Make an attempt to turn on your dome light and slow down to a safe speed showing them your cell phone as you pass. Give them hope but don't stop. Get the mile marker numbers.This happened to me in a driving snow storm and my gut instinct was that if I stopped I would have my car taken from me at gunpoint not even having an idea exactly where I was. Perhaps my only lifeline of a cell phone along with it. It could turn out to be deadly if you are left there to freeze to death. Always have a spare set of dry clothing for yourself along with a heavy coat for everyone traveling in the vehicle. Getting stuck on route 80 or any route for that matter in the dead of winter could also be deadly. Be prepared at all times to be exposed to the elements or an unheated vehicle in case you get stuck anywhere in the winter. Lesson learned when I walked 3 miles in 20 degree weather at the age of 17 without a coat wearing only a t-shirt. It took me 45 minutes to find a gas station. I was hospitalized for 2 days luckily and not found dead.


Thu, Jun 20, 2013 : 5:28 p.m.

Another excellent column, Rich. I am 6 ft. tall and when circumstances require me to walk alone at night, I am not the least bit shy about going into "Valkyrie Mode"! all I need now is a Spear and Magic Helmet! apologies to Elmer Fudd......