A rest area is a public facility, located next to a large thoroughfare such as a highway, expressway, or freeway, at which drivers and passengers can rest, eat, or refuel without exiting onto secondary roads. Other names include: motorway service area (UK), Services (UK), travel plaza, rest stop, service area, service station, rest and service area (RSA), resto, service plaza, lay-by, and service centre. Facilities may include park-like areas, fuel stations, public toilets, water fountains, restaurants, and dump and fill stations for recreational vehicles.
A rest area with limited to no public facilities is a parking area, scenic area, or scenic overlook. Along some highways and roads are rest stops known as wayside parks, roadside parks, or picnic areas.
The most basic rest areas have no facilities: they consist solely of an exit from the highway that leads to a roadway with paved shoulders, where drivers can rest, look at their maps or nearby scenery, or use cell phones.
- 1 Overview
- 2 North America
- 3 Europe
- 4 Asia
- 5 Australia
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Many government-run rest areas tend to be located in remote and rural areas where there are practically no fast food or full-service restaurants, gas stations, motels, and other traveler services nearby. The locations of rest areas are usually marked by signs on the highway; for example, a sign may read, "Next Rest Area 45 miles" or "Next Rest Stop 10 km.".
Driving information is usually available at these locations, such as posted maps and other local information, along with restrooms. Some rest areas have visitor information centers or highway patrol or state trooper stations with staff on duty. There might also be drinking fountains, vending machines, pay telephones, a gas station, a restaurant, or a convenience store at a rest area. Some rest areas provide free coffee for travelers which is paid for by traveler donations and/or donations from local businesses, civic groups, and churches. Some states provide Wi-Fi access at their state-owned rest areas or are considering doing so, including California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, and Florida, among others. Many rest areas have picnic areas. Rest areas tend to have traveler information in the form of so-called "exit guides", which often contain very basic maps and advertisements for motels and tourist attractions.
Privatized commercial rest areas may take a form of a truck stop complete with a filling station, arcade video games, and recreation center, shower facilities, and fast food restaurant, cafeteria, or food court all under one roof immediately adjacent to the freeway. Some even offer business services, such as ATMs, fax machines, office cubicles, and internet access.
Some rest areas have the reputations of being unsafe with regard to crime, especially at night, since they are usually situated in remote or rural areas. California's current policy is to maintain existing public rest areas, but no longer build new ones due to the cost and difficulty of keeping them safe, although many California rest stops now feature highway patrol quarters. Some of this reputation may be exaggerated, since the advent in recent years of improved lighting and security cameras in many rest stops. Nonetheless, rest stops continue to warn of theft and advise those who park to keep doors locked.
In the United States, rest areas are typically non-commercial facilities that provide, at a minimum, parking and restrooms. Some may have information kiosks, vending machines, and picnic areas, but little else, while some have "dump" facilities, where recreational vehicles may empty their sewage holding tanks. They are typically maintained and funded by the Departments of Transportation of the state governments. For example, rest areas in California are maintained by Caltrans. In 2008, state governments began to close some rest areas as a result of the late-2000s recession.
Some places, such as California, have laws that explicitly prohibit private retailers from occupying rest stops. A federal statute passed by Congress also prohibits states from allowing private businesses to occupy rest areas along Interstate highways. The relevant clause of 23 U.S.C. § 111 states:
- The State will not permit automotive service stations or other commercial establishments for serving motor vehicle users to be constructed or located on the rights-of-way of the Interstate System.
The original reason for this clause was to protect innumerable small towns whose survival depended upon providing roadside services such as gasoline, food, and lodging. Because of it, private truck stops and travel plazas have blossomed into a $171 billion industry in the United States. The clause was immediately followed by an exception for facilities constructed prior to January 1, 1960, many of which continue to exist, as explained further below.
Therefore, the standard practice is that private businesses must buy up land near existing exits and build their own facilities to serve travelers. Such facilities often have tall signs that can be seen from several miles away (so that travelers have adequate time to make a decision). In turn, it is somewhat harder to visit such private facilities, because one has to first exit the freeway and navigate through several intersections to reach a desired business's parking lot, rather than exit directly into a rest area's parking lot. Public rest areas are usually (but not always) positioned so as not to compete with private businesses.
Special blue signs indicating gas, food, lodging, camping and roadside attractions near an exit can be found on most freeways in North America. Beginning in the mid 1970s, private businesses have been permitted to display their logos or trademarks on these signs by paying a transportation department (or a subcontractor to a transportation department) a small fee. Until the release of the 2000 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, these signs were only allowed on rural highways. The 2000 MUTCD added provisions for allowing these signs on urban highways as long as adequate sign spacing can be maintained, however, some states (such as California and New York) continue to restrict these signs to rural highways only. Currently, these signs are allowed on urban freeways in 15 states, with Arizona being the most recent state (as of 2013) to repeal the restriction of these signs to rural highways only.
Attempts to remove the federal ban on privatized rest areas have been generally unsuccessful, due to resistance from existing businesses that have already made enormous capital investments in their existing locations.
For example, in 2003, President George W. Bush's federal highway funding reauthorization bill contained a clause allowing states to start experimenting with privatized rest areas on Interstate highways. The clause was fiercely resisted by the National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO), which argued that allowing such rest areas would shift revenue to state governments (in the form of lease payments) that would have gone to local governments (in the form of property and sales taxes). NATSO also argued that by destroying private commercial truck stops, the bill would result in an epidemic of drowsy truck drivers, since such stops currently provide about 90% of the parking spaces used by American truck drivers while in transit.
A type of rest area often located near state borders in the United States is sometimes called a welcome center. Welcome centers tend to be larger than a regular rest area, and are staffed at peak travel times with one or more employees who advise travelers as to their options. Some welcome centers contain a small museum or at least a basic information kiosk about the state. Because air travel has made it possible to enter and leave many states without crossing the state line at ground level, some states, like California, also have official welcome centers inside major cities far from their state borders. In Massachusetts, these rest areas are called tourist information centers and in New Jersey, visitor centers.
Prior to the creation of the Interstate Highway System, many states east of the Rocky Mountains had already started building and operating their own long-distance intercity toll roads (turnpikes). To help recover construction costs, most turnpike operators leased concession space at rest areas to private businesses. In addition, on "closed" or "ticket system" toll roads, such as the New Jersey Turnpike, New York State Thruway, and Mass Pike the use of this sort of service area allows drivers to stop for food and fuel without passing through additional tollbooths and thereby incurring a higher toll.
Pennsylvania, which opened the first such highway in 1940 with the mainline Pennsylvania Turnpike, was the model for many subsequent areas. Instead of operating the service areas themselves, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission opted to lease them out to Standard Oil of Pennsylvania (which was acquired shortly afterwards by the modern-day Exxon), which in turn operated a gas station with a garage, and Howard Johnson's franchises as a restaurant offering. The turnpike currently leases the gas station space to Pennsylvania-based Sunoco (which operates A-Plus convenience stores instead of garages at the sites) and the rest of the service area space to HMSHost.
Some turnpikes, such as Florida's Turnpike, were never integrated into the Interstate system and never became subject to the federal ban on private businesses. On turnpikes that did become Interstates, all privatized rest areas in operation prior to January 1, 1960 were allowed to continue operating. Such facilities are often called service areas by the public and in road atlases, but each state varies:
- Delaware, Maryland, Kansas, and Oklahoma – service area 
- Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – service plaza
- New Jersey – service area or service plaza 
- Illinois – oasis
- Indiana and New York – travel plaza 
Some states, such as Ohio, allow nonprofit organizations to run a concession trailer in a rest area.
In 2013, the state of New York launched "It Can Wait", a program for encouraging drivers to pause at rest stops and parking areas along state roads to text (thereby avoiding texting while driving) by designating all such areas as "text stops". The practice involves placing road signs which indicate the nearest "texting zone" at which to legally stop and use mobile devices such as smartphones.
Rest areas without modern restrooms are called 'waysides'. These locations have parking spaces for trucks and cars, or for semi-trailer trucks only. Some have portable toilets and waste containers. In Missouri these locations are called 'Roadside Parks' or 'Roadside Tables'.
A scenic area is similar to a parking area, but is provided to the traveler in a place of natural beauty. These are also called scenic overlooks.
The original service centres for Highway 401 were mostly built around 1962. Two more service centres (for eastbound and westbound) were added between Cambridge and Guelph in 1989. In 1993-94, two were placed at the ends of the Greater Toronto Area with one serving eastbound traffic in Mississauga and another for westbound traffic just outside Oshawa; this was to allow travellers to relieve themselves before encountering expected traffic jams inside the heart of the GTA. The Mississauga travel centre closed on September 30, 2006.
Ontario has a modern and well-developed network of service centres known as ONroute located along The King's Highways throughout the Province, particularly along the busy Quebec City-Windsor Corridor.
Two (along Highway 400, just north of Vaughan, Ontario) were planned to be reconstructed after the freeway is widened around 2008–2009, and two other service stations at Cookstown and Barrie, Ontario have since been expanded into an outlet mall. While no additional centres in new locations are planned, most of the original 1960s-era service centres on highways 400 and 401 were demolished in 2010, with new buildings constructed on the original sites and operated by HMSHost subsidiary Host Kilmer under the ONroute banner.
The service centres in Ontario have private restaurants and establishments. Most of them used to be independently operated; however during the early 1990s they were taken over by major restaurant and convenience store chains. They also contain gas stations, washrooms, picnic areas, vending machines, and arcade games.
Reese's Corner at the intersection of Highway 21 South and Highway 7 is often considered a service centre; even since Highway 7 was bypassed by the freeway Highway 402, 402 travellers can reach it via Exit 25. Lastly, truck inspection stations (which are more frequent than service centres) can be used by travellers for bathroom breaks, although this is not encouraged.
Two retail areas at Exit 74 along the Queen Elizabeth Way at Casablanca Boulevard are unofficial rest areas for motorist travelling to and from Toronto. The Gateway Niagara Information Centre is located on South Service Road.
In Quebec, rest areas are known as haltes routières and service areas as aires de services. Washroom and picnic areas are located along the autoroutes and many of the provincial highways. Most of the rest areas have vending machines and/or canteens.
There are about 10 service areas (on Highways 10, 15, 20, 40, 55, 117, and 175); these areas have gas stations and restaurants.
- Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) westbound between Brooks and Bassano;
- Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) eastbound between Tilley and Suffield;
- Highway 2 (Queen Elizabeth II Highway) southbound between Crossfield and Airdrie;
- Highway 2 (Queen Elizabeth II Highway) northbound near Highway 13 west of Wetaskiwin;
- Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) eastbound and westbound between Edson and Carrot Creek;
- Highway 43 accessible from both directions south of Valleyview; and
- Highway 63 accessible both ways between Atmore and Breynat.
Alberta Transportation also designates partnership rest areas or highway service rest areas that are privately owned and operated highway user facilities. These facilities are currently located on Highway 1 at Dead Man's Flats, Highway 2 at Red Deer (Gasoline Alley), Highway 9 near Hanna, Highway 16 at Niton Junction and at Innisfree, and Highway 43 at Rochfort Bridge.
British Columbia has many services centres on its provincial roads, particularly along the Yellowhead Highway/Highway 16, the Coquihalla Highway/Highway 5, and on Highway 97C, the first service centres built in the province. One notable curiosity is a service centre built along Highway 118: it is a minor road connecting two towns to the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy. 16).
The Prairie provinces (Saskatchewan, Manitoba) have rest stops located along the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1), however, they are simply places to rest, or go to the washroom; they are not built to such high standards as the 400-Series Highways of Ontario, or the Interstate Highways of the United States.
In New Brunswick, the only rest areas are roadside parks with picnic tables and washrooms operated as a part of the provincial park system, but many have closed due to cutbacks. Occasionally, litter barrels are also found along the side of the road.
Both the frequency and quality of European rest areas differ from country to country. In some countries such as Spain rest areas are uncommon – motorists are directed to establishments that serve both the travelling public and the local population; in other countries access to a rest area is impossible, other than from a motorway. The Dutch rest area De Lucht(nl) is typical of many European rest areas, in that it has no access roads other than from the motorway itself.
Rest areas are constructed and maintained by the national government, but the local municipality provides local maps and sanitary services. If there are commercial services, the shop has the responsibility for cleanliness of the area. Rest areas are designed mostly for long-distance voyagers. The recommendation is that there should be a rest area each 20 km (12.4 mi).
In France, both full service areas and picnic sites are provided on the autoroute network and regulations dictate that there is one such area every 20 km (12.4 mi) on autoroutes. Both types may also be found on national (N-class) highways, although less frequently than on autoroutes. They are known as aires, specifically aire de service and aire de pique-nique respectively, while aire de repos ("rest area") usually refers to a picnic stop. These types are not usually stated on approach signs, but are instead distinguished by the symbols used. A name is usually given, generally that of a nearby town or village, such as "aire de Garonne".
Germany and Austria
Raststätte (de:Autobahnraststätte) is the name of the service areas on the German and Austrian Autobahn. It includes a fuel station, public phones, restaurants, restrooms, parking, and occasionally a hotel or a motel. If the service area is off the motorway, it is named Rasthof or Autohof.
Smaller parking areas, mostly known as a Rastplatz (de:Autobahnparkplatz), are more frequent, but they have only picnic tables and sometimes toilets (signposted).
The term "rest area" is not generally used in the United Kingdom. The most common terms are motorway service areas (MSA), motorway service stations, or simply motorway services. As with the rest of the world, these are places where drivers can leave a motorway to refuel, rest, or get refreshments. Most service stations accommodate fast food outlets, restaurants, small food outlets such as Marks and Spencer and coffee shops such as Costa Coffee; many service stations also incorporate motels such as Travelodge. Almost all the MSA sites in the UK are owned by the Department for Transport and let on 50-year leases to private operating companies. However, in December 2008, after a change in the law, the only current official "rest area" in the UK was created at Todhills, on the newly opened section of the M6 between Carlisle and the Scottish border.
Lay-bys can vary in size from a simple parking bay alongside the carriageway sufficient for one or two cars only, to substantial areas that are separated from the carriageway by verges and can accommodate dozens of vehicles.
Lay-bys do not appear on motorways in the UK, where until recently only full MSAs were permitted. On other roads, they are marked by a rectangular blue sign bearing a white letter P, and there should also be advance warning of lay-bys to give drivers time to slow down safely. In practice, many local authorities neglect to maintain these signs to an adequate degree, and sometimes they are missing entirely.
Lay-bys are generally beneficial to road safety, as they provide somewhere safe for drivers to stop, whether they wish simply to rest, check directions, make a phone call (as it is illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving in the United Kingdom except in an emergency – Highway Code Rule 149), stretch their legs, or get refreshments, or if their car has broken down.
At some larger lay-bys mobile catering is provided by vendors operating from converted caravans, trailers, or coaches. These facilities generally offer much better value for money than roadside restaurants and therefore tend to be popular with truckers.
Some lay-bys have parking restrictions to prevent lorries using them as overnight parking, or as a long term storage area for trailers, and some have been permanently closed off by councils because of problems caused by their occupation by Travellers or other itinerants.
In Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, rest areas have prayer rooms (musola) for Muslims travelling more than 90 kilometres (56 mi) (2 marhalah; 1 marhalah ≈ 45 kilometres (28 mi)). In Iran it is called Esterāhatgāh (Persian:استراحتگاه) meaning the rest area or rest place.
In Malaysia, an overhead bridge restaurant (OBR), or overhead restaurant, is a special rest area with restaurants above the expressway. Unlike typical laybys and RSAs, which are only accessible in one-way direction only, an overhead restaurant is accessible from both directions of the expressway.
In Japan, there are two grades of rest areas on Japan's tollways. These are part of the tollway system, allowing a person to stop without exiting the tollway, as exiting and reentering the tollway would lead to a higher overall toll for the trip. They are modeled and named after the "Motorway Services" offered in Britain. The larger rest area is called a "Service Area", or an SA. SAs are usually very large facilities with parking for hundreds of cars and many busses - offering toilets, smoking areas, convenience stores, pet relief areas, restaurants, regional souvenir shops, a gas station, and sometimes even tourist attractions, such as a ferris wheel or a view of a famous location. They are usually spaced about one hour apart on the system, and often a planned stop for tour buses. Two Service Areas also have a motel. The other grade of rest stop is a "Parking Area", or a PA. PAs are much smaller, and spaced roughly 20 minutes apart on the system. Besides a small parking lot, toilets and drink vending machines are the only consistent amenities offered, while some larger parking areas have small shops, local goods, and occasionally a gas station - but are much smaller than their larger Service Area counterparts. The precursor to the tollway rest areas were public and private "Road stations" along almost any trunk road - places to rest, eat, and shop for local goods on the traditional road system. Popular rural roads that lead to remote tourist locations still have popular road stations, but with the rise of the tollway system, previously popular routes have been bypassed, leading to the decline or closure to once popular road stations all over Japan.
In South Korea, a rest area usually includes a park and sells regional specialties. Usually Korean rest areas are very big and clean. Cellphone charging is free and WiFi is available in every rest area.
In Thailand, bus travel is common, and long-distance bus rides typically include stops at rest areas designed for bus passengers. These rest stops typically have a cheap noodle or curry restaurant as well as a small store for buying food.
Rest areas in Australia are a common feature of the road network in rural areas. They are the responsibility of a variety of authorities, such as a state transport or main roads bureau, or a local government's works department. Facilities and standards vary widely and unpredictably: a well-appointed rest area will have bins to deposit small items of litter, a picnic table with seating, a cold water tap (sometimes fed by a rainwater tank), barbecue fireplace (sometimes gas or electric), toilets, and – less commonly – showers. Other rest areas, especially in more remote locations, may lack some or even all of these facilities: in South Australia, a rest area may be no more than a cleared section besides the road with a sign indicating its purpose. Rest areas in Australia do not provide service stations or restaurants (such facilities would be called roadhouses or truck stops), although there may be caravans, often run by charities, providing refreshments to travellers.
Comfort and hygiene are important considerations for the responsible authorities, as such remote sites can be very expensive to clean and maintain, and vandalism is common. Also, Australia's dependence on road transport by heavy vehicles can lead to competition between the amenity needs of recreational travelers and those of the drivers of heavy vehicles — so much so that on arterial routes it is common to see rest areas specifically signed to segregate the two user groups entirely. Thus rest areas generally do not allow overnight occupation. In Queensland, however, well-maintained rest areas sometimes explicitly invite travelers to stay overnight, as a road safety measure, but this is rare elsewhere.
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MSAs must ... not ... allow rear access to the site to be used other than by MSA staff, delivery vehicles, and the emergency services
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