Security: Lock ‘Em Up

Rolf Lockwood

Lately we’ve been hearing an awful lot about identity theft, and there’s no doubt that it’s a big and growing problem. It has nasty financial implications but there’s a continental security angle to it as well. Don’t know about you, but I have no wish to help some nefarious nogoodnik assume my respectable persona by failing to protect it.

Mind you, he can take my credit cards if he’ll also assume the debt.

Anyway, in both financial and security terms that’s a pint-sized problem compared to truck and cargo theft, about which we hear –and maybe do? — too little. Estimates peg the North American cost of identify theft at about $500 million a year. Peanuts. Cargo theft alone is probably pushing $10 billion.

I raise the issue because I still see tractors and/or trailers parked in odd and risky places. For instance, there’s a supermarket parking lot I sometimes cut through on my way to and from a friend’s house in midtown Toronto. It’s almost always at night that I make this jaunt, and often when the store is closed. And that’s when I sometimes see a good looking Freightliner cabover, occasionally with trailer attached, lounging about in this not terribly well lit parking lot. No houses look directly on to it, nor any businesses except for the supermarket, and I’ve deduced that the driver lives or has a friend in a nearby apartment building that offers no view of the parking lot at all. In other words, whether it’s loaded or not, this vehicle is vulnerable and then some.

Which leads me to believe that vigilance isn’t universal, even though theft prevention is largely a matter of common sense. Sure, there are modern tricks like electronic security seals and GPS tracking, but one of the first rules has to be dead simple: don’t let your vehicles or your cargo be left at risk in unprotected places like that Freightliner often is.

The core truth about trucking is that your vehicles are rolling ‘production lines’ that are largely unsupervised and manned by people who may be hundreds of miles away from your controlling hand. But even one mile is separation enough. Electronic sensors and satellite or cellular links between you and your trucks can do astonishing things on the security front these days, but let me offer a reminder about some of the most fundamental security rules.

Another piece of basic common sense for van-freight haulers is to get your drivers in the habit of locking their trailer doors. Almost all of them, roll-up or swing, have holes for a padlock or cable lock. Yet how often do you actually see them locked? It’s a hassle, no doubt, so drivers don’t bother.

But they’re obviously not to blame if they haven’t been supplied with a lock in the first place. The simpler locks are readily available from door manufacturers, but few customers buy them, according to a spokesman for Whiting Door Co. Obviously, a simple lock won’t stop the determined thief with the right tools, but for $30 or so you can get a pretty robust padlock that’s not easily broken.

Managing locks and keys can be a complicated matter, but less so if you put a limit on who gets a key and then keep a record of the people who have them.

Speaking of such things, a kingpin lock can be very useful in preventing someone from waltzing away with your trailer. But I gather that few fleets use these either — even smaller outfits doing just local runs — precisely because managing the keys can be overwhelmingly difficult.

No lock of any kind represents sure-fire theft prevention, but if the bad guys have several trailers to choose from in, say, a truckstop lot, they’ll go for the one that presents the least difficulty and the quickest getaway. I’d say use as many deterrents as you can.

And make sure your drivers understand the virtue of silence. Urge them not to discuss their cargo on the CB, on a cell phone, or at a truckstop. Nor should they leave manifests and freight bills and the like where they can easily be seen.

There’s a zillion other things your drivers can do to minimize the theft risk, and I’d urge you to work hard to get them on your side in this fight. Review your rules with them regularly, and if you don’t have rules, make ’em. Do it more or less right now, I’d suggest, because the problem isn’t going away any time soon.

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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