For a large number of Canadian drivers, crossing the US border is part of the regular driving routine. This past September I was pulled in for a secondary inspection at the port of Pembina, N.D.
This is not unusual. I was pulling an empty trailer and it was a random inspection, at least to the best of my knowledge.
Secondary inspections are thorough, starting with a full scan of the truck followed by a thorough search of the cab by Customs officers.
As a driver you wait in the Customs office after parking and are subject to a personal search in a separate room. This is not anything too invasive, simply emptying your pockets and answering a few questions about what is in the cab of your truck.
Do you have any weapons? Do you have any cash over $10,000? Do you have alcohol or tobacco on-board? Do you have any fruits and vegetables? As all of us who cross the border on a regular basis know, you must declare all of these things.
This is standard procedure on both sides of the border.
But in this instance I was also asked what electronic devices I had and was asked to provide passwords to access them.
“Is there anything on the hard drive of your laptop you want to tell me about?” I was asked.
About 90 minutes after arriving at the port I was cleared and on my way down Interstate 29.
I have been through many secondary inspections at the international border over the course of my driving career. I don’t take these inspections personally because I recognize and agree with the necessity of the process.
I have always been treated professionally by members of the US Customs and Border Protection and Canadian Border Services Agency.
I’ve always recognized that I am a guest in the US and conduct myself as such.
But when someone walks through your bedroom and rifles through your personals, all of the reason and justification for that action does not stop the feeling of intrusion on your personal privacy from creeping into your thoughts and stirring your emotions.
I started to stew in my own juices as I continued down the road.
My thoughts first turned to all of the regulations commercial drivers must comply with, starting with roadside inspections.
My last inspection had been on the side of the road, literally. It had taken place just outside of Green Bay on Wisconsin Hwy. 29.
It was a blitz by Wisconsin State Police. Commercial vehicles were being randomly inspected on both sides of the highway. I downloaded my electronic logs to the officer’s e-mail account and provided documentation to support them.
A canine unit was involved in the inspections so a drug sniffer dog was walked around the outside of my truck as part of the process. I will say again, that like my treatment at the border, the conduct of enforcement officials over the course of my career has been nothing short of professional and courteous.
This has held true for me throughout jurisdictions across North America.
So what was I getting myself worked up about?
This is the law of the land I’m complying with. I have nothing to hide and it’s just part of my job.
But my mind had not finished with its walk down the path of injustice to my ego.
I started thinking about electronic on-board recorders and hours-of-service rules.
I started contemplating the implications of the expanding field of telematics and driver monitoring technologies.
I started deliberating in my mind the pros and cons of automation within the trucking industry, where that would lead, and where would that leave me in another 10 years.
I thought about how large trucking companies rationalize the millions of dollars they spend on technology to improve the bottom line and the miniscule amounts that are spent on driver training and development in comparison.
It wasn’t long before I pulled myself back into the present moment and started to enjoy the view outside of my office window again.
The hum of a diesel engine and the rhythmic sounds of rubber rolling across concrete and asphalt are soothing to a trucker. Add a little rock-and-roll via the radio or your iPod and your mind slips back into that little slice of heaven on wheels.
Truck driving is still a great gig despite everyone’s efforts to make it otherwise, I think to myself.
The world is changing rapidly and so is the trucking industry.
There are many outside pressures on drivers today that did not exist when I entered this business over 15 years ago.
For the most part drivers have been left to adapt to these pressures on their own.
This trend has played into the current driver shortage in a big way and needs to be addressed.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.