SPECIAL REPORT: California may let cops put the brakes on trucks - literally

| 4/25/2003

Many hazmat truckers in California could soon have to put a device on their trucks to enable police to stop the vehicles. In fact, they might have to put a marking on the exterior of their trucks showing how the device works. 

The Assembly Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Monday, April 28 on AB575, a bill that would institute those changes.

According to Howard Posner, a consultant for the Transportation Committee, AB575 is designed to keep certain hazardous materials out of the hands of terrorists. "It's only going to apply to flammable materials, radiological isotopes and a very small list of essentially materials that terrorists might use, like botulism or anthrax or mustard gas, stuff like that," he said. The bill is very likely to be amended in committee, and the variety of trucks covered would be “narrowed down quite a bit,” Posner said. However, the list would include fuel trucks. The bill would require every truck covered to have some kind of disconnect device – an external mechanism that would either activate the brakes or cut off the fuel to the engine. The device would have to be built in a way that would allow Highway Patrol officers to activate it from the outside of the truck.

"You could use any number of technologies," Posner said. "There's one that attaches to the rear bumper where if a police car chasing you hits your bumper it activates your brakes. There's another where the patrol car might carry some sort of laser gun that deactivates your fuel supply. There's another that operates through GPS where your own carrier if you call them and let them know you've been hijacked they can cut off your fuel supply."

The bill’s amendment will likely be worded in such a way that if other technologies were developed that allowed a law officer to remotely stop a truck, they could be acceptable to the state.

The original text of the bill would require markings on the outside of the truck “to identify the activation method of the [disconnect] device.” That marking might be “a letter or symbol designated by the department.” 

"If you wanted to provide a blueprint for destruction to terrorists, this would be the way you would do it," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

For example, potential truck hijackers could simply read the instructions for the bumper device printed on the truck and use the method to disable the vehicle.

"We suggest state officials go back to the drawing board," Spencer added. "This idea didn't pass the laugh test when it was floated once before."

The stopping devices are not the only new requirement contained in AB575. It also contains a requirement for GPS tracking devices that would allow carriers to find a truck’s location at any time. That requirement would apply to motor carriers “transporting certain amounts of hazardous materials in certain vehicles.”

The provision does not differentiate between trucks owned by owner-operators as opposed to company-owned trucks.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

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