Terrorism concerns prompt new scrutiny for trucking
Amid growing fears of trucks as terrorist weapons, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed legislation that would strengthen driver training, increase nearly fourfold the maximum civil penalty for hazmat violations (to $100,000), create a nationwide hazmat permit system and give DOT, state and Postal Service inspectors more authority to stop shipments.
Thousands of hazmat drivers were pulled over, and the trucking industry was placed under new public and regulatory scrutiny after a series of highly publicized arrests of Middle Eastern immigrants believed to have obtained or sought fraudulent hazmat endorsements.
The FBI later said the men arrested for license violations were unconnected to the Sept. 11 attacks, and many were released.
Still in custody, however, is former Boston cab driver Nabil al-Marabh, an immigrant from Kuwait, who legally got his hazmat endorsement in Michigan a year before the attacks. Authorities say he was an associate of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. A fellow Boston cabbie, on trial in Jordan for plotting to blow up a hotel, has named al-Marabh as a leading U.S. agent of Osama bin Laden.
After al-Marabh’s hazmat license made headlines, the U.S. attorney general warned of a potential terrorist attack by truck. Since then, the FBI and other agencies have begun checking 2.5 million hazmat licenses, every hazmat carrier is being urged to toughen security measures, every state is reviewing trucking company records and stepping up spot checks of trucks, and Congress is considering laws that would change how hazmat truckers do business.
For example, a U.S. House bill introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., would require manual inspections of all truck cargo entering the country.
During an Oct. 10 U.S. Senate hearing on truck security, Duane Acklie, chairman of the American Trucking Associations, told senators that carriers have instituted new background checks but need access to national criminal databases. Acklie also urged the creation of a uniform system for reporting cargo thefts nationwide, since terrorists without licenses could steal or hijack a truck.
No longer business as usual for truckers, carriers
As he keeps an eye on his empty rig from a window seat in a Prothro Junction, Ark., truck stop, trucker Dennis Cheatham says, “I try not to be uncomfortable, and I try not to be so paranoid, but it is hard not to be.”
Wayne Pinkston of Mountain View, Ark., a trucker for 37 years, says he’s changed his habits since Sept. 11. “I used to fuel up, go in to pay, and I used to leave my truck unlocked. Now I lock it whenever I go in.”
On the CB, some truckers “are talking about arming themselves, which is ridiculous,” says trucker Chris Wick of East Prairie, Mo.
Nationwide, truckers and carriers are rethinking how they do business as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Mostly, truckers are being urged to exercise common sense.
“We want to make sure they don’t leave the truck unlocked, make sure they know where their load is, make sure they know where they’re going,” says Barry Stang of the Montana Motor Carriers Association. “We’re asking them to check in with their dispatchers more often, make sure they know their shippers.”
A typical tanker truck holds as much fuel as one of the jets that hit the World Trade Center. “A gasoline tanker could definitely become a bomb,” says Tom Schofield of Quality Carriers of Tampa, Fla., the nation’s largest bulk tank carrier.
David Stubblefield, president of ABF Freight Systems, wonders whether it’s a good idea to label hazmat trucks so prominently. “That might be a negative,” he says.
Truckers Robert and Cora Reed of Portland, Ore., say their carrier told drivers not to resist hijackers. “If someone puts a gun to my head and wants my truck, I am going to show them how to start it and get out with my dogs,” Robert Reed says.
“You can’t imagine on the highways what kind of backup that would produce – trying to search every truck that went through,” says trucker Ray Grantham of Fairfield, Calif.
James Rhode of the Nevada Highway Patrol agrees. “We can’t bring the nation to a screeching halt,” he says.
Whatever new laws are passed, law enforcement agencies nationwide are already paying special attention to truckers by making more frequent and extensive inspections.
– The Associated Press
Proper truck-flag etiquette
After the Sept. 11 attacks, owner-operator Al Weber of Carthage, Ind., had giant American flag decals, 37 feet long, placed on both sides of his trailer.
“It kind of makes a statement,” Weber says. “You can see it a mile away. People come up to me and say, ‘I saw you going down the road, and I thought I was going to cry.'”
These days, more truckers than usual are flying the flag from their cabs and displaying the image of the flag on decals, T-shirts – even their bodies. Tattoo parlors nationwide report a surge in business since Sept. 11. “It’s patriotic,” says trucker John Holbrook of Atlanta, who had the flag newly inked onto his right arm.
“We don’t consider a tattoo to be proper flag etiquette,” says David White, executive director of the National Flag Foundation, www.americanflags.org, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization that teaches good citizenship and respect for the U.S. flag. Most tattoos are hidden by clothing occasionally, and hiding the flag is disrespectful, White says.
The rules for displaying U.S. flags are contained in the U.S. Flag Code, passed by Congress in 1923 amid nationwide fears of a domestic terrorism threat – from the Ku Klux Klan, then at the height of its power.
Some rules are well-known: Don’t fly a faded, worn or tattered flag, and make sure the union, the blue field of stars, is in the upper left corner.
Less well known, White says, is that flags flown from moving vehicles should be attached to the chassis or the right fender, not the antenna or smokestack. A flag flown at night must be continuously lighted. And while flag decals are fine, the longstanding military tradition is for the union always to be moving forward on a moving vehicle – which means, ideally, (as Weber did,) putting a decal on the passenger side “backward,” so that the union is in the upper right corner, toward the grille.
“Do the best you can, but by all means, fly the flag,” White says. “And if you see people flying the flag incorrectly, be kind and gentle with them. Don’t get in their face. I’m afraid we have some self-appointed flag police out there, but we aren’t the Taliban, after all. This is America.”
Trucking Industry braces for potential military call-ups
As U.S. forces bomb targets in Afghanistan, some truckers are being asked to do extra duty – military duty.
The American Trucking Associations says 170,000 drivers, 5 percent of all drivers, could be called up for service. That number was derived from a survey of ATA members, says spokesman Mike Russell.
At the outset of U.S. attacks in Afghanistan, 25,000 reservists and guardsmen from all professions had been called up, so the likelihood of all eligible truckers ever being called is remote. But carriers say some employees are already being assigned to active duty.
The nation’s largest carrier, Schneider National, has about 1,000 guardsmen and reservists among its 15,000 drivers, says Schneider spokesman Mike Norder. More than 100 Schneider associates were called up during Desert Storm, and a few have already been called up during Operation Enduring Freedom, Norder says.
Schneider is steeped in military service history, winning the Freedom Award from the U.S. Department of Defense for its support of the National Guard. The Enlisted Association of the National Guard presents an annual award named after Schneider founder A.J. “Al” Schneider.
– Sean Kelley
More GATS winners
Among prize winners at the Great American Trucking Show, Sept. 7-9 in Dallas, was Rudy Obregon of Lancaster, Texas. He won a Caterpillar Racing Package, including four tickets to the 2002 Winston Cup race at the Texas Motor Speedway, two nights’ lodging, a V.I.P. party, a pit tour, a visit with NASCAR driver Ward Burton and $1,000 spending money.
Winners of Palm Pilots awarded to attendees of seminars sponsored by the Texas Motor Transportation Association included Mark Fitts of Midwest City, Okla., Kenneth Hines of Benton, La., and Jodi Smith of Dayton, Texas.
Winners in the Overdrive 40th Anniversary Sweepstakes, announced Sept. 9 at GATS, include:
The next GATS is Sept. 6-8, 2002. For more information, visit www.gatsonline.com.
VOLVO announced it will close its Mack Trucks plant in South Carolina, laying off about 1,000 people, and move those operations to its Volvo plant in Virginia. That will leave Volvo with two plants, the second being the Mack plant in Pennsylvania. The Mack and Volvo lines will remain distinct, and no current models will be eliminated, Volvo says. In late September, Volvo’s plants were running at less than a third of capacity.
JOSEPH M. CLAPP, former Roadway chairman, was sworn in Oct. 4 as the first administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
MARY PETERS, former head of the Arizona Department of Transportation, was sworn in Oct. 2 as the new administrator of the Federal Highway Safety Administration.
A DAY AFTER stockholders gave final approval to the merger of the two oil giants, ChevronTexaco marked its first day of business Oct. 10.
A TRUCKER’S HEADLESS BODY was found in his sleeper at a San Antonio truck stop, a hacksaw lying on his chest. The victim, Mark Monfore, 47, of Brownfield, Texas, drove for Jack Holt Trucking in Lamesa, Texas. George Wayne McBroom, 31, of Bandera, Texas, arrested at an Arizona truck stop on a charge of auto theft, confessed to the murder and was held on $1 million bond, police say.
RYDER now offers four preventive maintenance visits for each “Road Ready” used truck sold. Each visit includes a 112-point inspection, an oil and oil filter change and a complete lubrication.