have announced that they have been quietly working on a secret weapon they
hope will prevent terrorists from using a truck as a rolling bomb, according
to the New York Times. However, the proposed weapon could pose many other
problems on the road, say industry experts.
Since Sept. 11, law enforcement
and transportation officials across the country have been examining ways to
minimize the threat of terrorists gaining possession of a big rig to launch
attacks on America's highways. The effort is particularly intense in
California, where tens of thousands of trucks travel along highways and roads
In an effort to reduce
the likelihood of at least one kind of attack, the California Highway Patrol
believes it may have found an answer that would allow pursuing police officers
to activate a device by "tapping" a fleeing tractor-trailer or tanker
from behind to bring the rig to a screeching halt.
The system, which is
being tested for the highway patrol by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory in Livermore, CA, activates the truck's air brakes when a
horizontal metal bar running across the rear end of the trailer is "nudged"
by a pursuing vehicle. The device's developers say it also could be configured
to be triggered remotely with a radio or telephone signal.
Several issues remain
to be ironed out, including which trucks would have the device installed.
But, Dwight "Spike" Helmick, commissioner of the California Highway
Patrol, is reportedly "very encouraged" by what he has seen in trials.
His department is spending $350,000 a day monitoring truck security.
OOIDA Vice President
Todd Spencer was flabbergasted by such an idea being pursued in California.
"While I think it's appropriate to carefully consider all options
to prevent or stop terrorism, this one likely wouldn't get very high
up on the priority list with most truckers," says Spencer. "Can
you imagine being the police officer edging up to a trailer at highway speeds
trying to tap the bumper knowing that when he does the truck's brakes
will lock with the patrol car inches from the back of the trailer? I wouldn't
want to be that cop. And if you could actually tap the brakes with a car's
bumper and avoid causing an accident, I wouldn't want to be the truckdriver
who was shut down this way."
Spencer pointed out that
such a device could also be used for purposes not intended by its developers.
"How many armed thieves would see this as an easy way to stop a truck
to rob the driver?" While high-tech solutions may generate enthusiasm
as this one reportedly has, Spencer says there are low-tech solutions that
would provide benefits that go well beyond security.
"I know it sounds
crazy, but if trucking companies would start recruiting and hiring the best
people in our society and changed the way they view, compensate and treat
those drivers, they would have dedicated workers willing to spend decades
- even their entire career - with the same carrier," he says.
"Would you have more trust for a 20-year employee or one that has been
with the company only a few months and is likely to be gone at anytime? This
applies to national security as much as it does highway safety. Companies
that go through lots of drivers are far more likely to hire drivers with problems."
David Longo, a spokesman
for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told Land Line even if
the device was required to be installed on trucks licensed in the state, California
could not require it on thousands of trucks crossing state lines. Longo understands
law enforcement is trying to investigate all possibilities to reduce the risk
of an attack using trucks, but he says that this particular device is impractical.
The bumper device, which
has been demonstrated to officials and trucking industry representatives in
the state, is scheduled to be shown this month in a demonstration, the details
of which are being kept confidential.
--Keith Goble, staff writer