Protecting the Goods

| April 07, 2005

Tractors also are easy prey because they offer little resistance when locked. Truck manufacturers are only now beginning to offer more advanced keys, similar to the ones standard on European luxury cars. Most truck locks can be defeated with a hammer and a screwdriver. Pro Express’s Jerry Nadeau and investigator Jim Harris proved just how easy it is when they invited a convicted cargo thief to break into a truck fitted with heavy security. The thief broke into the truck, hot-wired it, defeated a kingpin lock on the trailer, broke open the trailer and was ready to go within 90 seconds.

More high-tech security devices, like low-profile satellite tracking devices for tractors and trailers, are coming on the market, but they are generally expensive. Since 9/11, the demand for such devices has also been huge. “Customers are talking about it more and more, and there’s a host of government studies going,” says Frank Bio, director of marketing for Volvo Trucks North America. Most devices, such as remote shutdown, are designed to defeat a terrorist attack, but they also can be applied to cargo thefts.

Drew Robertson, director of the Freight Transportation Security Consortium, says a secure truck includes: “On the trailer: GPS location, door sensors, remote locks for the door, remote locks on the spring brake and rear radar. On the tractor: panic buttons, kill switches, remote locking, a communications package, driver authentication.”

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The problem, Robertson says, is motor carriers don’t have the money to add such devices. “Fleets haven’t spec’ed a lot in security and safety equipment,” he says. “They don’t even spec airbags on the tractor.” Carriers don’t have much extra money to spend on security – especially when there’s little certain payback. “Insurance companies haven’t given truckers much incentive to add that stuff,” Robertson notes.

On the other hand, insurance companies are reacting to the thefts. “We’re hearing that it’s getting harder to get insurance,” says Petow. “More and more insurance companies are asking higher premiums, demanding higher deductibles and putting more requirements in policies.”
Compounding the problems is the fact that thieves know how to defeat much of the anti-theft equipment. Simply cutting wires easily disarms some systems.

A simple steerage lock, Harris says, could prevent most thefts where the truck is stolen. But truckers have to be willing to put them on. “If you’re an owner-operator, you might do it to protect your own property,” he says. “But a fleet driver doesn’t want to take the time.”

Fleet security personnel admit driver cooperation is a big issue. “We’re pretty good at determining how we will protect a particular product,” says August (Gus) W. Bremer, Jr., security manager for Ryder. “Some trucks will have added security, maybe some electronic hardware.” But the biggest problem Ryder has is getting drivers to follow security procedures – like no side trips and no unauthorized stops.

Carriers have also been forced to step up their scrutiny of drivers. Background checks have become standard, and drivers are usually the first suspects in a cargo theft. Prime Inc. fingerprints drivers for special contracts and keeps the prints on file in case there is a problem. The company also checks criminal databases. That effort plus driver training has resulted in a theft rate under 2 percent, which Randy Price, director of corporate security for Prime, argues is pretty good for a large fleet.

Even with the enhanced efforts in driver and equipment security, fleets say cargo theft is a problem they have to live with. “I don’t think there are any major things the industry could do differently to stop cargo theft,” Bremer says. “What we have to work towards is a better sense of cooperation in the industry.” Some of that cooperation is underway in the form of groups like the National Cargo Security Council. The American Trucking Associations has set up a cargo theft report form on its website. And other associations, law enforcement task forces and truckstop efforts are under way.

But it is no easy battle. “There is a demand out there for certain goods, and we are carrying them,” Bremer says. “If somebody wants what we are carrying badly enough, they’re going to go for it.”

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