I travel frequently. This travel often requires that I stop at rest areas or other public restrooms. Maybe I’ve read too many bathroom attack stories, but I’m especially aware when using the bathroom late at night. Here are some tips that I’ve gathered for a safe stop.
- Don’t stop at a questionable public restroom. This means you may want to avoid the bathroom that is in a bad section of town or bypass the rest area with only a car or two in the lot. One option if you’re driving back roads or less busy highways may be to simply stop at the side of the road. Another option is to use a Starbucks or McDonalds; they often have clean restrooms and are frequently available. If you can avoid a confrontation, it might be worth the extra few minutes to find a safer spot to stop.
- Clear the bathroom. Don’t just push the door part way open, enter, walk to the first stall, and commence. Push the door all the way open to help ensure no one is standing behind it. Look in all the stalls to make sure you know if anyone is in there. Preferably it’s empty, but if not, you still want to know how many other folks are in there with you. Keep mental track of each individual in the bathroom while you’re in there. You can also clear the bathroom for your significant other; a law enforcement friend of mine said he just opens the door to the ladies room and yells “cleaning service” or “housekeeping” before checking the bathroom to make sure it is empty. It only takes a couple minutes to help improve the safety of those you love.
- Lock the door. Many of the restrooms I enter have a deadbolt from the inside, even the ones with multiple stalls or urinals. I think it’s better to remain alone if you are at an apparently empty restroom; why not lock the bathroom door? The worst that may happen is someone else is inconvenienced a little.
- Use the “right” stall or urinal. There are whole articles written about what to do with your pistol when using the toilet; I won’t talk to that. However, you may want to choose the larger stall to help make sure you have more space to maneuver and less chance of someone reaching under. You may want to use the stall at the end of the row so that there is less need for someone to walk past your door. If using a urinal, you may want to choose the one furthest from the door so that there is less chance someone entering may walk behind you. (Note that I’ve read multiple articles about people being attacked from behind at a urinal.) However, you may also choose the stall or urinal closest to the door for specific reasons. Either way, think through which one might give you the best advantage. Of course, if you’ve locked the door as suggested above, some of these concerns may be mitigated.
- Exit aware. Now that you’re done and washed up, it’s time to leave. You’re safe, right? Time to grab your phone, check Facebook, or maybe text your spouse. Well, maybe not yet. When you walk out the bathroom door, check your surroundings. Check to see if anyone is immediately outside each door you walk out. Try not to let someone flank you at the doors. Definitely, don’t let yourself be flanked on both sides. If necessary, you can hold the door open and wait for anyone approaching to walk in past you, rather than giving your back to them. As you approach your car, use angles and distance to see if someone may be next to it. Finally, once you’re in your vehicle, time to lock the doors, start it, and move to an empty and less-busy area. If you need to check your phone, it is better to do it from a locked running car where people aren’t likely to walk by.
Note that none of these items require that you be armed. These are just a few tricks that you can use to help keep yourself or your loved ones safer in a vulnerable situation.