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When we think of car safety, we will often picture advanced safety features and careful driving. However, it is important to also consider your safety when entering and leaving your vehicle. According to FBI data from Crime Data Explorer, parking garages and lots are the third most common location of violent crimes in the United States. Here’s what you should know about the dangers of these areas, as well as tips for staying safe.

The dangers of garages and parking lots

The most recent FBI crime data comes from 2019. In that year, there were a total of 534,196 violent crimes in the United States. Of those, 34,618 — or six percent — occurred in a parking lot or garage. This makes parking lots and garages the third most common site of violent crimes, beaten only by personal residences (49 percent) and alleys or sidewalks (19 percent).

The data indicate that 133,989 victims were attacked by a complete stranger. Both victims and offenders were most commonly between the ages of 20 and 29, although 30- to 39-year-olds were also at high risk.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the FBI considers parking areas to be “among the most dangerous” places. The dangers of these areas are typically due to their design. Parking lots and garages are often poorly lit and isolated and are very easy for the general public to access. 

In fact, to improve car safety in these areas, Milwaukee implemented a new ordinance requiring owners of parking areas to provide police with detailed security plans before they’re able to open to the public. This increased focus on safety is a result of the 2019 death of a nurse practitioner, who was murdered while walking to her car after a shift.

Just one year earlier in another hospital’s parking lot, a woman was stabbed over a dozen times. She survived and brought a lawsuit claiming that the parking lot had a lack of adequate security.

What not to do

A view of parking garage in the Meskel Square during its inauguration ceremony in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
A parking garage | Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

While the onus is on the owners of these parking areas to provide increased safety measures, there are some actions you can avoid in order to improve your safety. Whenever possible, avoid parking in dark areas far away from the building you will be entering. The National Security Council (NSC) also advises against leaving purchases clearly visible within your vehicle.

Additionally, it is important to be aware that larger parking garages and lots are typically the most vulnerable to crime. Although you cannot always control this, if possible you should try to avoid large parking areas with heavy foot traffic, as these are easy for anyone to access. Instead, seek out parking areas with restricted access and/or heavy use of video surveillance equipment.

Car safety tips for parking in a garage or lot

There are a number of car safety tips you can follow to reduce the risks of parking structures. Perhaps the most important safety measure is simply increased awareness. Knowing that these areas are more dangerous than you might expect, you can pay increased attention to your surroundings at all times. If possible, avoid looking at your phone, listening to music, or lingering in the parking structure longer than necessary.  

The NSC states that one of the most vital steps you can take in deterring crime is being mindful of the parking spot you choose. Try to stay in well-lit areas, and park as close as possible to your intended location. When entering your car, lock your doors as soon as you are inside.

Violent crimes are always the fault of the perpetrator, not the victim. However, an increased awareness of potential threats can help keep you safe in these dangerous areas.


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