More people have asked me about parking garage safety than any other topic. For several reasons, these structures especially strike fear into the hearts of women. Parking garages are actually a convenience, as well as a land-conservation device, intended to protect users and their cars from the elements and avoid having to walk across acres of open parking lots.
So why are parking garages scary? Primarily because of our imaginations and what we’ve seen on TV and at the movies. Here are the top reasons given to me over the past 15 years:
They’re dark. True, most parking structures aren’t lit up like the midway of a state fair, but that isn’t inherently dangerous. Combat the darkness and give yourself a landmark by parking under or near a light, and carry a small flashlight in your pocket, purse, or on a keychain in case of power failure.
You can’t see people coming. I interpret this to mean both people on foot and in vehicles. Due to the nature of parking garage design, there are blind curves, lots of vehicles, intermittent activity and traffic, and people not paying attention.
If you’re concerned about vehicular traffic, try parking on a higher level or in a less popular location and using the elevator or stairwell. If your concern is that people might hide with the intent of doing you harm or stealing your car or belongings, that’s a more complex issue. Try to stop thinking like yourself, and instead consider the best way to injure, abduct or steal from someone in a public place.
First, you’ll want privacy, which means low traffic and/or isolation (you’re the bad guy now, remember?). Next, you’ll want to be able to make a quick getaway, so you’ll want to avoid security guards and keep your target from drawing attention. You’re also more likely to be successful in your heinous deed if you intimidate or even injure your target. However, petty theft has a much lesser penalty than armed robbery or aggravated assault…two different types of criminals. The basic solution is multi-part:
- Keep your vehicle locked until you are ready to exit it
- Be aware of your surroundings, and choose your timing (don’t get out when you’re all alone, or someone shady is hanging around)
- Keep your dominant hand free, preferably with pepper spray or your keys in it
- Be alert, make eye contact with others, and show that you are aware and unintimidated
- Walk with a group if possible to avoid isolating yourself
- Lock your vehicle, and check it out before re-entering (tires okay, nothing under the car, backseat empty, everything looks fine)
- Don’t park next to vans with sliding doors
I have to walk out by myself. If there is a security guard, ask him or her to walk with you. If you can’t avoid walking to and from a parking garage by yourself, be prepared. Let someone know where you are: “I’ve just walked out of my office and I’m heading to my car now.” Don’t stay on the phone while you walk to your car; it’s an unnecessary distraction. When you get to your car, check it out, get in, lock your doors, and call your friend back. “I’m in my car, heading home. Thanks!” I once forgot to call my check-in partner after going running, and I caught hell for it. That’s the kind of accountability partner you want…one who will call YOU after just a little too much time has passed.
I’m isolated when I’m in the stairwell or elevator. This can be hard to avoid. If you can’t walk with a group (and personally, I’d rather be alone than with one or more strange men in an elevator), then remember that if you’re truly alone, there’s no real danger. Staying alert and situationally aware will go a long way toward your safety. Further, I suggest swinging wide around all corners to avoid startling someone or giving an opportunist a close-quarters advantage. If there’s no traffic, why not walk right down the center of the aisle, giving yourself plenty of room to see between cars? Be present and vigilant, taking in your surroundings, and use your ears to help warn you of approaching people or vehicles.
I can’t find my car. Parking garages are generally fairly large and uniform in appearance, even if there is a numbering system for the floors and rows or sections. To a disoriented or stressed traveler returning from a multi-day trip, a parking garage may seem like a nightmare labyrinth. Pay attention when you park, and take a photo of the closest sign indicating where you’ve parked (Level 3, Row 22A) or park somewhere that’s easy to remember (“everyone wants to B 21”).
I’m confused and distracted. With cars coming and going, pedestrians, blind corners, and sometimes competition for parking spots, a parking garage can be a stressful place. Once you’ve entered your code or taken your ticket at the garage entrance, be sure to roll up your car window for your safety and the security of your vehicle. Remember, you have as much right to be there as the other patrons, so don’t let social pressures push you into a bad situation.
Parking garages don’t have to be scary, if you stay mindful and plan for your safety. Do you have a concern about parking garages that I didn’t address? Drop me a line!
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