A report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) endorsed Vehicle Immobilization Technologies (VIT) to address threats posed by the shipment of hazardous materials (HAZMAT), even though the technology is still a work in progress.
The FMCSA Best Practices Report addressed the need for security based on numerous international and domestic incidents involving the shipment of hazardous cargo. In a two-month period in 2002, the report says, four separate events occurred involving HAZMAT shipments. These included a terrorist igniting a truckload of LNG, killing 17, and the theft of 96 drums of cyanide by three armed men north of Mexico City.
There are two different categories of VIT systems—Vehicle Disabling Technologies (VDT) and Vehicle Shutdown Technologies (VST). Both technologies can be activated while the vehicles are in motion, but VST technology is one step advanced. While VDTs immobilize vehicles to impede restart, VSTs also cause a vehicle to lose power while moving, eventually drawing it to a stop.
According to the report, VITs are being used in the trucking industry for security of high-value goods and protections of drivers against theft and hijacking. However, it found that the technology is not infallible. “The communication component of VIT systems is its weakest link,” the report says. “For example, vehicle shutdown due to loss of signal cannot be implemented because it would create too many undesired shutdown events. Therefore, anyone with knowledge of the system can cut the communication link and continue driving the truck.”
The FMCSA’s tests, conducted at Laurens, SC last year, tested for five functional requirements of VIT systems: vehicle disablement if the vehicle senses an unauthorized driver; vehicle disablement / shutdown in the event of a loss of signal; remote vehicle disablement / shutdown by the driver; remote vehicle shutdown by the dispatcher; and remote vehicle shutdown by law enforcement.
“The tests provided a first-hand understanding of how these different vehicle immobilization technologies are triggered and activated,” the report said. “The tests were also used to investigate the level of vehicle control by the driver once the shutdown sequence started and until the vehicle reached a complete stop.
“The most sophisticated technologies allowed for a gradual speed reduction during the shutdown process in which all of the vehicle functions are available to the driver… The simplest VSTs demonstrations consisted of technologies that shutdown the engine completely, with the consequence that the vehicle mechanical functions cease to operate.”
Twenty-eight companies were deemed to potentially satisfy at least one or more functional requirements, of which 16 responded to a questionnaire provided by FMCSA. Six companies participated in the demonstration tests, while several others were given a field test by the organization or were interviewed via teleconference about their products.
Of the companies participating in the Laurens field test, two-Magtec and BSM Wireless-were able to disable a vehicle in the event of a signal loss. None of the companies were able to demonstrate a full shutdown in the event of a signal loss, according to FMCSA. (edited March 5, 2008)
“The tests also provided an indication of how long it takes from the instant that the order to shutdown the vehicle was given to the instant that it comes to a stop, as well as the time it takes to re-enable the vehicles,” the report states. “Both measurements strongly depend on the type of technology and communication used. In general, for engine shutdown technologies and cell phone communications, it took, on average, 30 seconds from the time the order to shutdown was issued by law enforcement to the time the shutdown process was initiated. The average was 64 seconds for technologies that degrade the engine performance.”
The technology currently costs anywhere from $800 per vehicle to upwards of $3,500 for higher-end systems. The report also rated each system by factors such as ease of installation, amount of necessary maintenance, and the ease to hack into.“We were thrilled to have the opportunity to demonstrate how MAGTEC’s M5K state-of-the-art technology can play an essential role in transportation security, “ said Robert Morisset, MAGTEC president and chief executive officer. “The transportation industry as a whole, but especially the hazmat industry, need to understand how important it is to have vehicle immobilization technologies as part of their security solutions.”