Like many RVers, truckers, and car-travelers, we occasionally park at roadside rest stops overnight.
Each state has different official rules about this. Here's a list of the states that officially allow overnight (one night only) camping at roadside rest areas in self contained vehicles (no tents).
Connecticut - only on Illinois Toll Road
Indiana - only on Indiana Toll Road
New York - emergencies only
Ohio - only on Ohio Turnpike
Oregon - 14-hour limit
Wyoming - with some limitations
We've spent the night at roadside rest areas in other states as well and have never been rousted from sleep by the officials.
Many stops offer regional travel information, picnic facilities and, sometimes, free wi-fi, RV sanitary dumps, a scenic view, and maybe even a free morning coffee. Scan to the bottom of this page for links to official web sites and a guide to every Interstate rest area and the amenities available at them.
Rest stops are meant to be safe places where travelers restore their energy and driving alertness. Most have good lighting and security features as well as the comfort of a continual flow of people.
Of all the problem incidents I've read about, most occurred during day light hours. The question then should perhaps be, "Are they a safe place to stop at all? " The answer: "In some cases, perhaps, not."
There have been legitimate reports of robberies and solicitations by sex-trade workers and others in some areas, but these problems and locations are very few and far between. The most common trick seems to be a knock on the door from someone who says they need help. You should be suspicious of any stranger knocking on your RV door - at a rest area or in any parking lot. DO NOT open that door if you have any doubts of the person's intentions. That advice holds true wherever travelers stop and can be targeted.
I believe it's no less safe to stop at most rest areas than to stop and park in broad daylight at any business, mall, restaurant, town park, or beach. Wherever you stop, you COULD encounter a problem and YOU are the only one who can decide whether it feels safe enough. After all, if you don't feel safe, you won't really get a good sleep so you may as well move on.
Personally, we do have one rule of thumb: we avoid rest areas that are within easy reach of the biggest cities. Our theory is that most crime is centered in cities, criminals are lazy, and they'll target easy-to-reach locations. While we've never been a victim of any criminal activity, over the last twenty years, we were warned about potential danger at a rest stop twice. Both times we were within a half hour drive of Houston, Texas.
A number of news stories have been dedicated to the issue, raise concerns about the closings.
For the time being, it would seem that, just because a roadside rest stop in marked on our road map, we cannot count on it being there or being open. Here are links to official state web pages (for the states that have them), offering varying levels of information. Many are updated regularly to reflect current closures. Some also provide valuable information about amenities at each rest area such as wi-fi, RV dump stations, and security cameras.
Canadian Provinces and the states not list above don't provide online official government rest area information at this time.
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