When Al Daniel of Baraboo, Wis., rides his 18-wheeler on the interstates, he obeys the speed limit, parks only in well-lighted rest areas, and packs a Louisville Slugger under his seat.
He is cautious but angry, especially after listening to some mean chatter on his CB the last few days as truckers and motorists react to a string of high-profile murders on or near America's interstates.
"You always have some concerns whenever you're out here on the road," said Daniel, a trucker with 18 years' experience. "I know truckers who have been waylaid in rest areas. Truckers held up between trucks. And then you hear about the tourists getting killed. And James Jordan getting killed. It's getting ridiculous. And it's getting out of hand."
The odds that an average motorist will be struck by violence on the highway remain small. Millions of cars travel along the country's interstate system on a given day like some giant linear city. But this cocoon of high-speed safety has been breached by a series of violent incidents.
The recent shooting deaths of two foreign tourists on Florida's interstates, and the slaying of basketball star Michael Jordan's father just off a highway in Lumberton, N.C., are only the most visible incidents in what appears to be a national trend.
Last winter, a main highway for Florida vacationers became a target for snipers armed with guns and concrete chunks, leading local police and the Automobile Assn. of America to warn motorists to avoid the road, I-295.
There is crime at rest stops and rest areas, on the road shoulders and off the exit ramps.
Burglars prey on cars while the occupants are inside highway restaurants. They stage holdups while passengers are parked, asleep at the wheel.
"One way of looking at it is to say the cities are bursting at the seams with criminals and the criminals are moving out on the highways," said Louis R. Mizell Jr., a security consultant in Bethesda, Md.
"The highways are perfect for the predators," he said. "They offer easy access, fast escape and a constant flow of potential targets. Highways also offer invisibility. You're just one of hundreds of thousands of cars passing by. If the predator is hunting, he not only can select people to stalk, he can take advantage of random targets, people broken down, people lost."
According to Mizell, who collects information and statistics on criminals and terrorists, more than 200,000 crimes have been committed in the last 12 months on the nation's roads and highways.
"There is no question that hundreds of people are murdered every year on the nation's highways and roadways," he said. "That's all types of crimes, from carjackings to kidnapings."
Mizell's data base contains a checklist of crimes.
"Last year alone, over 7,000 of these highway crimes would have been prevented if the motorist would have had his or her door locked," he said.
"At least 620 different people were victimized criminally after either getting lost or having their car break down. That's preventable. You don't have to have your car run out of gas. Three thousand people we know of were victims of the bump-and-rob technique. Thirty-one children in the last 18 months have been accidentally abducted by carjackers."