What If

Let’s play a game. A sci-fi game. The time is not very far into the future. It’s shortly after terrorists were caught preparing to detonate tractor-trailers rigged as bombs. Each one was packed with more than 40,000 pounds of explosives and parked on a crowded American city street.

You are rolling along a quiet stretch of road, grateful for a low-stress run for a change. It’s been a while since you’ve been stopped by the new Interstate Trucking Police, even longer since you were held and questioned by them after someone – you’ll never know who – reported that you looked suspicious. None of the new agency’s officers in their blue cruisers (on the CB they’re Blue Bears) have used their remote autopilot controls to take over your truck for two months. But it was only a few days ago an Army helicopter set down right there in front of you in the hammer lane on I-95 and some soldiers checked out your load. They never said why.

You know that when you do reach your designated truckstop (you’re told where to stop, you don’t choose, these days) it’ll take a while to get through the checkpoint before you can park. But, before that, the checks at the federalized inspection station just up ahead will take so long what you thought would be lunch will be dinner. The dogs, sniffing for bombs and who knows what else, could take half an hour by themselves.

Maybe your logs and the truck’s black box won’t match the coop’s electronic records by a couple of minutes, and that means time talking to uniforms to match them up. The electronic transponders (adapted from the ones on aircraft that are tracked by airport control towers) that are now on every bridge and tunnel sometimes don’t work as well as they should, and the truck control towers are too new to work efficiently. And maybe you haven’t shaved for three days and you don’t look like the picture on your new ID card. Could be your electronic wrist bracelet is on the fritz too. More time talking to uniforms. And shaving in front of them. So you keep driving and smile occasionally at the mini-camera mounted on the dash that tells the feds the right guy is behind the wheel. Your miles-per-week are way down, of course, but at least there’ll be good people and friends at the truckstop.

I don’t believe we’ll ever see these days. But at a recent seminar at NATSO Show 2002 in Nashville, Tenn., I listened to Jeff Beatty of International Security Specialists outline a scary scenario that hints at what the future could hold if we don’t take the proper precautions. The former Delta Force, FBI and CIA man, now working with the American Trucking Associations and other transport groups to make sure trucks are not used as weapons by terrorists, posed this: Let’s say terrorists used four big rigs as massive bombs instead of four passenger jets to attack America. Would the feds react by doing what they did Sept. 11? That day they immediately shut down the airlines and grounded every plane in the country.

Would they ground trucks? Imagine, said Beatty, what would happen if trucking was stopped or re-routed. Planes went back into the air, but anti-terrorist measures can dictate their activity.

Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations use truck bombs as weapons, said Beatty. If you look at FBI information, he said, you can see “the FBI is telling us that a truck bomb is the most significant large threat out there.” So, said Beatty, be prepared. ATA chairman David McCorkle asked NATSO members to join his members on a ‘mission’ that “no truck be used as a weapon.” NATSO agreed to pitch in. ATA, said McCorkle, wants America’s three million over-the-road truckers to become an ‘army.’

Drivers would be the eyes and ears of the country on roads and bridges, in tunnels, at truckstops, warehouses, docks and railyards. According to Beatty, vigilant drivers could stop terrorists before they get their hands on a truck.

Uncle Sam needs you in this new army, so join up today. If you don’t, the feds will try to stop terrorists from using trucks as weapons. Let’s do it. This way you’re in charge. And you’ll never have to lather up so a man in a blue uniform and reflector shades can watch you shave.

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