SPECIAL REPORT: California official wants feds to require truck stoppers after latest effort to require them fails

| 8/6/2004

The head of the California Highway Patrol plans to ask federal officials to require truck-stopping devices on tractor-trailers nationwide, The New York Times reported Aug. 5.

The effort by patrol Commissioner Dwight “Spike” Helmick comes just weeks after the latest attempt to require the devices, a bill titled AB575, failed in the California General Assembly.

Helmick’s department has made its support for the devices clear. It spoke with legislators and truck industry officials during the effort to pass AB575, as well as on previous bills that would have required the devices. And after the bill failed, Scott Howland, who works in the Special Reps Office at the Patrol, told Land Line the truck-stopping devices were still on the patrol’s radar screen.

"As new technologies become available, we are interested in what they can do and how they can benefit the safety of hazardous materials," Howland said.

Patrol officials supported AB575 and, if asked again, would still support similar legislation, he said.

The Times said Helmick’s latest bid to require the devices started after he took part in a conference call with Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge regarding the potential of terrorism by truck. Helmick plans to pitch the idea to federal officials after a review by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

While the California efforts would have focused on hazmat trucks, The Times indicated the new effort would require the devices on all trucks. The newspaper specifically mentioned a device demonstrated in a video on the California Highway Patrol Web site.

The device is hooked to the trailer’s back bumper. When a car, such as a Highway Patrol vehicle, hits the back bumper, it activates the device, locking the brakes.

When the nature of some of the truck-stopping technologies being considered in California first came to light, it raised concerns in the trucking industry – especially that a terrorist could use the devices to take control of a truck.

"If you wanted to provide a blueprint for destruction to terrorists, this would be the way you would do it," Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, said. "This clearly is a bad idea whose time we hope never comes."

Since that time, opposition to the devices has been universal in the industry.

The Times said Helmick’s proposal would call for the use of the bumper device or an equivalent mechanism identified by the federal government.

--by Mark Reddig

Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.