Trucks at Work

Hazmat security

I got a good email the other day from a reader asking about what's going with hazmat security. He wanted to know if his hazmat trucking fleet would be required by federal mandate at some point to install satellite tracking systems on his equipment.

The short answer is 'no' at least for now -- depsite a report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recommending such a mandate, along with other security steps (Check out the FMCSA's HAZMAT Safety and Security Technology Field Operational Test report at for more information).

The last legislative attempt to put such a mandate in place came in 2004. The U.S. Senate nixed funds for Transportation Security Agency (TSA) -- part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- to investigate and implement GPS-based tracking systems on board commercial trucks carrying hazardous materials . New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer killed the idea via an amendment to the 2005 DHS appropriations bill.

A good analysis of this defeat is an article by Glenn Gibbon in 'GPS World' -- a magazine devoted to the high tech market. Gibbon rightly points out that "Ironically, for years, a rapidly growing number of trucking companies have been outfitting their fleets with just the kind of capability that American Trucking Association [ATA] dismisses as an expensive, vulnerable, and cumbersome mandate -- [adopting such tracking] primarily because of the increased productivity that results."

He also rightly notes that the Defense Department already performs this kind of 'national hazmat' tracking so it's not hard to do -- the Defense Transportation Tracking System (DTTS) is a centralized facility for monitoring Department of Defense (DoD) transport and monitors more than 47,000 arms, ammunition, and explosive shipments by commercial motor carriers each year in the continental United States. DTTS continuously monitors in-transit status of shipments, providing GPS-derived location reports and coordinating emergency response efforts for accidents and other incidents.

So, for now, mandatory tracking for hazmat truckers at least is dead in the water. Whether it gets taken up again under this new democratically controlled Congress is open for debate, but it's worthy to note a democratic senator -- the senior senator from New York, no less -- killed the effort the last time around.