Conference Underscores Security

Birmingham, AL – As the federal government and American businesses are placing more emphasis on security, the trucking community in turn is continuing to face mounting pressure in the safety arena, according to Charles 'Shorty' Whittington, president of Indiana-based Grammer Industry.

"Put it in perspective: Prior to the attacks of September 11, terrorism ranked 17th on the business communities’ list of concerns— now it's the number three issue," he said here at McLeod Software's 14th annual User Conference. "Inside Washington D.C. today, all you hear about are concerns about security because the federal government doesn't want trucks to be used as weapons. And frankly, if four trucks do what those four planes did on 9/11, this industry is going to be completely changed very quickly."

Whittington said the intense scrutiny on trucking is apparent on the road. For example, he said that Grammer pays its drivers $100 every time they receive a clean roadside inspection. Typically, the company paid out $4,000 a year for this bonus. In the years following 9/11, however, it's been topping $25,000 annually.

"That means our trucks are getting inspected a lot more frequently— almost five times as much," Whittington said. "So we as an industry have to be prepared for that focus. We have to develop a security plan, have a security director or officer in place to implement and monitor that plan, and keep abreast of new security rules and regulations."

One looming security device, the black box, may not be mandated for over-the-road trucks but it's only a matter of time before they become a reality, according to trucking experts at the conference.

"I believe on-board recorders or 'black boxes' are coming to this industry -- it's going to become reality sooner rather than later," said Chris Burruss, president of the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA). “We have to start a dialog now about what they will do.”

Grammer’s Whittington added that with security the major watchword throughout the federal government today, the implementation of black boxes could be inevitable.

"We have to get over the cost hurdle of the technology and we have to make sure that information it records can't be used against us. It has to remain the property of the trucking company,” Whittington said.

In other remarks, TCA’s Burruss said trucking as a whole has a major image problem and that carriers need to work to counteract the “negative” view of the industry held by the general public.

"Many times, perception is reality, and when it comes to trucking much of the public has a very negative image of our industry," said Burruss. "The last 20 years we in the industry have told ourselves of the good job we are doing in terms of safety, for example, but we haven't told this outside the industry. That has to change."

He believes a 10-year "aggressive" image campaign is needed to address the negative stereotypes the public has of trucking -- telling people not only of the industry's sustained efforts to improve safety, but of the critical role it plays in shipping both raw materials and finished goods.

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