Trucking's horrific October: Crimes, crashes, and calling it like it is

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Muted fall colors as an operator waits outside a shipper in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Alex Lockie

Happy Halloween! This morning I woke from a bad dream wherein the rich and powerful constantly tried to remake the humble trucking industry in their own image, force-feeding small business truckers untested, politicized and ideological fixes to parts of trucking that actually work. 

Later, as I drank my coffee and read the news, I realized it wasn't a dream.

It's true that trucking from the owner-operator's perch can sometimes feel like the most regulated position in the nation. Yet for all that, how is the most regulated professional, the driver, so often a victim of crime? 

As I write this, there's a literal maniac terrorizing parked trucks with an ice pick or other small, sharp implement up and down I-75. The attacks are targeted and devastating, to the tune of $15,000 sometimes, disabling truck tires, airbags, and even brake lines. No arrests have been made, despite at least a dozen incidents this year. Are trucking's enemies so numerous and spiteful that, even in acts of vandalism like this, it's hard to guess who might be behind it? Environmental activists? NIMBYs? Tire seller down on his luck? An ex-trucker insane with rage? 

I'm an ex-waiter, but I don't go around smashing plates. 

Also down South, reports of rogue towing companies launching something of a feeding frenzy, sinking their hooks into any truck unlucky enough to cross their paths and demanding a king's ransom. In Tennessee, the numerous complaints against A1's Towing & Hauling, a particularly storied outfit whose armed agents have been accused of physically attacking and restraining drivers as they haul off their vehicles, have prompted the state's highway patrol to get in on the case. We could likely fill a book at this point with driver accounts of simple towing and recovery jobs, all around the country, that now can cost $6,000, easily

If wasn't bad enough, cargo theft is through the roof. Just this month, indictments came down for a Philadelphia-area cargo theft ring that allegedly held a driver hostage at gunpoint while stealing cargo from the trailer. That same gang later boosted more than $230,000 worth of dimes being shipped by the Philadelphia mint. Thankfully, enforcement took some action there, but around the country, many cargo crimes remain unsolved, and the incidents and their monetary value both are way, way up when the counting's done. 

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And that's only the truly criminal acts against truckers! 

More often than outright heists or coercion by armed tow-truck drivers, civil wrongdoing and legal gray areas plague the work of hauling. 

Convoy, a digital freight broker formerly valued by investors at $3.8 billion, decides to shut its doors suddenly amid a "perfect storm" of slow freight and rising rates (as if everyone hasn't contended with that this year), and who's left unpaid?  

Double brokers run rampant around the load boards, despite fleets and owner-ops reporting clearly shady behavior and boards' efforts to tackle the problem -- another one of some hundred or so ways an owner-operator can be ripped off. 

That's in addition to the "normal" horrors of sharing the road with the weekend warriors. A driver with no HOS limitations or CDL driving a giant RV hauling a 20-foot trailer could smash headfirst into you at any moment. That's what happened on August 9 in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and a truck driver lost his or her life. 

Meanwhile, if a CDL driver, who spends his or her working life under constant vibration moving essential freight across the nation, takes the wrong pain relief supplement, that can ruin a career. Ask Sandra Jeanne Irwin, who still struggles to find trucking work after a mislabeled CBD supplement caused her to fail a drug test. Oh, and the mislabeling on the part of the CBD vendor -- they get off with a warning from the Food and Drug Administration, no real penalty there. 

[RelatedCan truck drivers use CBD? All you need to know about cannabis, hemp, testing and the clearinghouse]

With more than three million truck drivers around the country, surely the political class might heed the call and step up? That's a solid maybe or maybe not on the truck parking front, or pushing back against the dreaded speed limiter mandate. Right now, though, state and federal authorities are pushing trucking to electrification -- something that's simply a big risk for small trucking fleets absent better return on investment, advancements in battery capacities, and/or improvement to a myriad other roadblocks at this moment. 

Top trucking executives and pundits literally go around predicting a "trucking bloodbath" to wipe out small carriers, but let's see who gets the last laugh there. 

Not scared yet? Take a look at spot rates for dry vans.  

All of that is to say I'm not here looking to raise your blood pressure or tick you off, dear reader -- well, maybe not only that. I want to emphasize this: Absolutely everything and everyone in this country depends on what you do, and though sometimes it's true that advocacy and representation, even the basic rights of OTR drivers are all discounted in public, we hope having a relationship with us is important to you. It's important to us. American truck drivers need their voices heard. I write to hopefully assure you -- yours is heard and, as best as we can, amplified here, in these pages. 

So truly -- happy Halloween and here's a big thanks for the work you do. If you've got a horror story (or even a pleasant one), please reach out to keep this conversation going, the voice of America's truckers (that's yours) ringing loud and clear. Here's hoping any downtime is enjoyable this Halloween. And hey, if you're feeling in the spirit, we've got some scary trucking movie tips for you if you find time after pull-off. Just don't park on an exit ramp, particularly in Florida or South Georgia, whatever you do! 

[Related: Ice Pick Bandit strikes two nights in a row, and reports keep coming in]