By Nick Erdmann
Special to Land Line
Criminals and professional crime rings are quickly learning that driving away with your cargo and equipment is just too easy.
The FBI has estimated such losses at $12 billion to $20 billion annually and rising. Unattended trucks and dropped trailers with little or no security present an irresistible target for cargo thieves.
When thefts began to attract attention, they were countered with low-security, low-cost locks. This satisfied security needs in most cases.
Today, however, there has been an abrupt change in attitude. The change in thinking can be easily tracked back to the ever-increasing cost of vehicles, the value of products being transported – like electronics, clothing, etc. – and rising insurance premiums.
So now, security has become a top priority for many independent owner-operators.
Tractor theft, in particular, has become a major industry problem. Thieves are stealing tractors and therefore stealing owner-operators’ jobs in the process. The theft is not only the loss of the vehicle, but also a loss in income for the driver.
A new bag of tricks
Drivers should be aware that the thieves are watching for vulnerable cargo and easy targets. Take proper security measures to protect your cargo.
Many thieves will follow truckers from where they loaded until they stop at a truck stop. This way, they know what is in the load, and it gives them an opportunity to steal the load while you are taking a rest stop.
Do not underestimate the resourcefulness of cargo thieves. Professional thieves can enter a vehicle and begin unloading your cargo in seconds.
Some thieves will even cause minor accidents with trucks carrying high-value cargo, so that there can be a distraction to the driver while the cargo is being stolen.
Often, thieves become aware of trailers’ contents when they are loaded at the terminal. The thieves will mark a trailer with an “X” so they will know which trailer has the valuable cargo.
There are a number of common-sense methods that minimize thefts, such as:
- Keep your vehicle in sight when parked;
- Take the keys out;
- Don’t allow the tractor to idle unattended;
- Use high-security theft deterrents;
- Be aware of the high-crime cities you are traveling through;
- Padlock trailer doors and use kingpin locks;
- Vary your route to avoid becoming predictable;
- Do not offer information about your cargo or destination over the radio.
- Have the license plate and serial numbers of your tractor and trailer available to report to police in the event your vehicle is stolen; and
- Report tractor/trailer and cargo theft immediately. Recovering stolen cargo that has been missing for more that 24 hours is extremely difficult.
Some effective devices that secure the tractor from theft are the Enforcer Air Cuff Lock and Steering Lock Bar.
The Air Cuff Lock unit secures the air valves of the tractor, preventing them from being released and preventing theft. The steering lock is inserted in the u-joist of the steering column, locking out the steering ability of the truck. Trailer door locks, kingpin locks, glad-hand locks and cargo seals are just a few devices that are fairly inexpensive and can help deter theft of trailers and cargo. Taking the initiative to protect your investment and your cargo can prevent costly losses.
Another simple, but effective means of protecting your tractor and trailer is parking as close to well-lit areas as possible, with the most vulnerable part of the trailer near the light. Also, parking near security sources increases the possibility of an intruder’s noise being heard.
An effective, functional security system should be carefully thought out and be tailored to the operation it is protecting. Any mechanical security hardware, regardless of its quality, is only as reliable as the individuals who possess the keys.
Nick Erdmann of Transport Security Inc. in Waconia, MN, is a member of the National Cargo Security Council.