Trucking’s role in terror may be in next president’s crosshairs

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Updated Jul 28, 2016

vote_stickerI don’t remember flying in a pre-9/11 world.

I’ve heard about it, and looking at the militarized process we deal with now I can hardly believe it. You could actually smoke on a plane?

Forget planes for a minute. September 11 changed trucking and a truck wasn’t even part of the attack.

Still, 9/11 put even more scrutiny on the application process for HazMat endorsement as it seemed more likely than ever that everyday mundane things like flying and driving could be part of an ongoing sneak attack.

If anything, 9/11 proved that all it takes is one nut (or a group of nuts) to change the world for the rest of us. I believe that happened recently in France.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have long feared commercial trucks would play a role in domestic terror attacks beyond the use of HazMat.

Trucks were the focus of a 2010 FBI reports titled “Possible Indicators of Use of Large Commercial Vehicles as Weapons.”

A follow-up report, “Terrorist Use of Vehicle Ramming Tactics,” all but foreshadows what happened in Nice, France where a straight truck plowed through a crowded boardwalk during a Bastille Day celebration.

The attacker, a delivery driver by trade, allegedly rented the truck, much like Timothy McVeigh did 21 years ago in his attempt to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

A Mazda Miata steamrolling through a crowded street would be just as dangerous as a commercial truck. Packing a large commercial van with explosives will still do a lot of damage. You don’t have to rent a box truck, but the use of large trucks as a weapon, I believe, is about to be heavily scrutinized by our next president’s administration.

You can’t stop crazy. You can only hope to contain it.

We live in a crazy world right now, and the effort to contain it will bear watching next year when either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump takes up residence in the White House.

Trump, being the more outspoken candidate on terrorism to-date, is probably the least likely one to watch here. Trump has claimed he would declare war on ISIS over attacks like the one in France. He’ll take the fight over there, or at least he’ll try.

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In response to the Nice attack, Clinton said she would let the fact-finding process run its course as the U.S. worked with its global partners in ferreting out threats.

In my opinion, a fact finding process would include looking at how the terrorist got access to the truck – legal or otherwise – and how that could have been more complicated and more heavily scrutinized.

It won’t take long before both candidates realize that not every large truck requires a commercial license, and not every CDL holder has to pass a TSA background screening. Yet.

My gut says a rigorous HazMat-style federal background screening is only years away for future CDL applicants and will be part of license renewals. That won’t be free and you’ll have to foot the bill.

I also think you’ll see something like the TSA’s airport pre-check process but for truckers with pre-screened drivers – preferred drivers, or whatever you want to call them – granted easier access to more densely populated cities or sections of major highways, and possibly would be the only ones allowed to haul certain types of loads – kind of like a “Super HazMat” certification.

There’s already a no-fly list designed to catch terrorists before they climb on an airplane, and I don’t think we’re too far away from trying harder to catch them before they climb in truck cab, rental or otherwise.

As frustrating as the process is, the government is fairly confident that TSA-spearheaded airport security and screening has made flying safer and prevented more attacks.

I believe that will serve as the framework for a process that is laid out for truck drivers across the U.S. in the years to come.

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected].