April cover story: Risky Business

Carolyn Magner | April 13, 2011
Sandy Long has made it her mission to focus on the dangers facing unsuspecting new drivers

“It was a big wake-up call for me,” he says. Since the attack, he does his post-trip inspections in daylight, strives to be more aware of his surroundings and plans his trips to park in truckstops with good reputations. Vruwink, a Trucker Buddy ambassador who drives for Bay and Bay Transfer, says he still gets chills when he thinks about how things could have turned out. “I couldn’t wait to get home to my wife and see my grandkids. I’m not going to take my security for granted ever again.”

Lance and Kacie Wood, of Summerfield, Ill., drive team for an armored semi company and are trained in personal protection and commercial vehicle security. Wood, an over-the-road trucker for 13 years, often advises other truckers on their personal security. While he has a federal permit to carry a weapon on board, he believes an overall attitude of security is vital to a trucker’s safety, and being aware of their surroundings is something that can’t be taken for granted.

One of his security practices is to write down the make and model of trucks parked next to him at night, and he strongly urges every trucker to do the same. “If something goes down in the night, you’ll have that information,” he says. One of his buddies was sleeping in a rest area when he was awakened by police. A trucker sleeping in the truck next to him had been robbed and then scalped. The truck on the other side of him was gone, and he was not able to provide police with details about the possible suspect or his truck.

Plan it

Wood says good security practices begin before he starts his trip. “Plan your route down to the last detail. I don’t recommend stopping the truck for the first 150-200 miles in case someone is watching you,” he says. He recommends truckers plan their route to include a safe stopping place and to keep friends, family or dispatch aware of their plan. “You have to let someone know where you are going and what time you expect to be there.” On the other hand, don’t tell random strangers on the Internet or CB radio where you are going. “Never talk about your load, ask directions or talk about your route to a stranger.” Planning includes where you stop for the night. “Never park on a ramp; they are notoriously unsafe,” Wood says.

Lock it

“It sounds simple, but keeping a padlock on your trailer, loaded or unloaded, is a huge deterrent to thieves and one less reason they’ll target you,” Wood says.

Park it

Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of NATSO, says that since 9/11 truckstops have beefed up security and increased the use of cameras. “When people know they are being monitored, it makes for a good deterrent,” she says. She also credits drivers for being perceptive about who should and shouldn’t be lurking around the premises.

“If a driver sees something that’s not right, he should report it immediately,” Mullings says. Major Mark Savage of the Colorado State Police agrees and says, “Your cell phone is one of your best defenses against crime. Call the police if you sense something amiss. Don’t look the other way if you witness a crime.”

Truckers have been attacked by assailants hiding behind and even under trucks at night. “Park under a light and as close to the truckstop as you can. Don’t go out if you see something suspicious,” Savage says.

Sound the alarm

Truckers who travel with dogs say their pet is the best deterrent against crime. “Nobody is going to bother me when Miss Lillie (a 60-pound English bulldog) is around,” Wood says. Even a small dog can act as an alarm, alerting the driver to an intruder. Long says one female driver he knows strings a row of tin cans from door to door so she can hear if someone is trying to break in.

Defend yourself

If the worst happens and you are attacked, use whatever you have in your cab for self-defense. Truckers have various items at their disposal, such as a tire-thumper, heavy-duty flashlight, hammer or fire extinguisher. However, things get complicated if you “plan” to use something illegally — like wasp spray — for self-defense. Mace and even pepper spray are illegal in some states, and legal consequences may be severe. If you plan to carry a stun gun or flare gun, be aware those products are regulated and restricted in some states. Don’t carry something for self-defense if you have not researched its legality in the states you drive through.

Can you carry a gun in your cab?

Nothing stirs a heated debate like truckers carrying firearms for protection. One of the most pervasive myths about this topic is that there’s a federal law against drivers carrying a firearm in a commercial motor vehicle. No such law exists and, in fact, there is law that says you can.

In the federal regulatory code, Title 18 Section 926(a) The Peaceable Journey Act, under Part 1, Chapter 44, states: