What price security?

Heightened security is the order of the day since the terror of Sept. 11. Armed National Guardsmen with dogs and Humvees patrol airports. Mailroom workers learn how to identify and handle suspicious packages. Alert Americans watch for and report any unusual activity.

Trucking is on alert, as well, prompted in part by the discovery that several suspected terrorists obtained CDLs with hazmat endorsements. Our borders are on Level One alert, some hazmat haulers are facing multiple, lengthy inspections, and the American Trucking Associations has asked Congress for the right to perform criminal background checks on drivers. For the first time, we see 18-wheelers not only as the most efficient way to get goods from point A to point B but also as potential terrorist weapons.

As a trucker, you are already subject to more scrutiny than most American workers. Law enforcement officers can inspect your rig whenever they see fit. You undergo random drug tests, stop at weigh stations and keep logs of your working – and nonworking – hours. And because the trucking industry is regulated to the lowest common denominator, you receive the same level of scrutiny whether you’re a newbie or a veteran with 3 million safe miles under your belt.

If the war against terror goes on for months, even years, as President Bush has warned, the scrutiny you’re already under will continue to intensify. With our country at war, it’s tough to ask ourselves: “Where is all this headed?” It’s easy – and perhaps right – not to question new policies and procedures that are introduced in the name of national security.

Long term, however, heightened security measures will cause two serious problems. First, they will hurt your ability to earn a living. More inspections mean less time spent with wheels rolling – a fierce blow to your already dented bottom line. Second, increasingly stringent security will further invade your already fragile personal freedoms.

There is no doubt the trucking industry, working with the government, could do a better job of policing itself. It’s too easy to get a CDL and too difficult for trucking companies to determine whether the drivers they hire are safe. But as the war on terrorism unfolds, we in the trucking industry – and all Americans – must ask ourselves: How far from a free nation with a free market economy are we willing to let the pendulum of national security swing?

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With visions of terrorists using petroleum tankers as makeshift bombs dancing in our heads, let’s hope the answer is: not too far.

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