Cover Story
Watching Your Back

By Charlie Morasch
staff writer


OOIDA Life Member and Land Line columnist Dave Sweetman has more than 4 million safe miles, and has never had a load stolen, although he’s hauled some pricey classic cars to high-profile celebrities such as the late James Brown.

Although it seems elementary to lock your doors and park in well lit areas, Dave said some drivers have learned the hard way that basic precautions are often the best ways to stay safe.    Here are a few rules he lives by to avoid becoming a victim of cargo theft.

Lock your doors.

2 Take keys with you.

3 Be picky where you park. “Some places are better lit, better patrolled, and have better security.”

4 Don’t idle needlessly. “I never get out of the truck with the engine running; I do not. I see guys pull into a fuel island, let the truck sit there and idle and waste fuel. Worse than that, you’re a security risk.”

5 Use a locking brake cuff. Dave has a combination lock that covers the parking brake valve in his cab, making any theft at least more time-consuming.

6 Watch your mouth. “I don’t sit at the coffee counter and blab my mouth about what’s in the truck and trailer. They’ll ask, ‘Got anything cool in there?’ I’ll answer, ‘Volkswagens.’ ”

7 Keep your eyes open. Dave once watched a trailer robbery as he sipped his coffee at a service plaza on the New Jersey Turnpike. Noting the suspect’s van description and license plate, he helped New Jersey State Police track the thieves down and later testified. “Be aware of your surroundings.”

8 Consider GPS. GPS devices are becoming more affordable. Dave’s tracking device lets his dispatcher know where he is, to within 20 feet. “Some guys think, ‘I don’t want Big Brother watching me.’ But in this business, you do.”

9 Plan ahead. Sometimes HOS requirements and warehouse delays force an unplanned wait at an undesirable spot. With experience, Dave said, drivers learn where to stop for fuel, sleep and get a bite to eat.

10 Padlock your trailer doors. “Of course if the bad guys really want it, they will get it, but why invite the curious or random sneak?”

“Mostly, use basic common sense,” Sweetman said. “Common sense is still cheap.”

 Team drivers and OOIDA members Heather and Roger Hogeland of Yucaipa, CA, have been driving over the road together for 24 years. They have hauled some high-value loads as owner-operators and while leased, including pharmaceuticals and high-end electronics.

 Heather said they always put a kingpin lock on their trailer, park in well-lit areas, and leave lights on and curtains closed if they leave the truck for a meal. They also suggest commonsense precautions.

 Engage other drivers on the CB if you’re suspicious about being followed, Heather recommended.

 “Drivers need to make sure they keep an eye out for anybody who is following them, or for a vehicle you’ve seen more than two or three times in the last 20 minutes,” Heather said. “Police aren’t mad if you call and say, ‘There’s been this guy following me, and I have a high-value load.’ ”

Roger’s advice was curt and direct. There is one sure way to keep your trailer from being targeted, Roger said: “Don’t ever stop.”