Being a long-haul truck driver is by no means the safest job in the world, but it could be a lot more dangerous than most of us think. Figures released by the commercial drivers’ International Road Transport Union, the IRU, show that 17 percent of Europe’s long-haul truck drivers are victims of robbery during work-hours at some time over a five-year period. And thefts from long-haul trucks total in the region of EUR€8.2 billion (US$12 billion approx.) – every year. New initiatives by Volvo Trucks and the EU are being undertaken to improve driver safety and prevent these thefts. One particular anti-theft device in development is a lockable fifth wheel that can be remotely controlled, thus preventing the trailer from being separated from the truck and disappearing.
Most truck robberies take place at lay-bys, and if you consider what these trucks carry, you’ll understand why they are targets. Everything from expensive electronic goods to tobacco is shipped via trucks around Europe, and much of it is never recovered. Add in all the peripheral expenses, such as vehicle and trailer repairs, replacement freight and police man-hours, and the true cost of this crime rises significantly.
“These attacks are a serious threat to the safety and security that commercial vehicle drivers have the right to enjoy in the pursuit of their profession. They are also a threat to the haulage companies and the high-value goods for which they are responsible while carrying out their haulage duties. Ultimately, even the end customers suffer as a result of delays caused by vanishing cargoes,” says Per-Anders Grösfjeld, marketing manager for transport information systems at Volvo Trucks.
Grösfjeld says it might surprise people to know that Europol’s statistics reveal that many parts of Western Europe are high-risk zones with regard to transport thefts, on a par with countries such as Russia, Mexico and Brazil.
About ten years ago, the most common site of thefts in the transport chain was cargo terminals and warehouses. Walls, fences and rigorous checks and controls were put in place to curb the problem but really only shifted it to the roads that have become the workplace of organized crime, and their victims are the long-haul trucks.
It is out on the road that the cargo is by far at its greatest risk of being stolen, according to Europol.
According to Volvo Trucks, a big cargo can be stolen quickly and easily, and in less than an hour it can be reloaded onto other vehicles and vanish from the scene. As a truck manufacturer, Volvo is tackling the problem from the dual perspectives of the driver and the vehicle. In order to safeguard goods transport, Volvo Trucks has launched Security Service, a supplement to the Dynafleet transport information system in Europe. With this system, the truck is under constant surveillance. Working together with Securitas, Volvo Trucks offers subscribers a service whereby drivers can press an alarm button in an emergency situation to alert the police or Securitas personnel.
Volvo is also developing a lockable fifth wheel that can be remotely controlled, thus preventing the trailer from being separated from the truck and disappearing.
The next stage in the security system provides protection from theft of the whole rig. A manual alarm or a system that triggers an alert as soon as the truck passes a predetermined geographic perimeter will prevent the truck from starting after it stops, or will gradually restrict its speed until it comes to a complete halt. Since the driver has no control over any part of this process, his or her safety is not jeopardized.
According to a new EU directive, every driver must undergo at least 35 hours of safety training within a five-year period. Volvo Trucks has developed a training program that puts the focus on the driver’s safety awareness. The spotlight is on increasing know-how about crime situations and thus reducing the risk of being the victim of crime, and also reducing the risk level if anything goes wrong when the driver is the victim of a crime.
“It’s important to be alert”
Hubert Seufert loves driving trucks and has been doing just that for 30 years. But after he was drugged and robbed at a truck stop in France a couple of years ago, he is more cautious. “Today, all truck drivers are in constant fear of being robbed,” he says.
He woke up after being drugged to discover a hole cut into the side of his cargo platform tarp, and realized that he had been the victim of robbery. The incident took place two years ago but Hubert Seufert remembers it all very clearly. How he suddenly snapped awake and rushed to the rear of his truck, only to be greeted by the broken seal and open doors. Five pallets of DVD players were missing.
“I’d stopped at a lay-by on the border with Belgium to have a nap. Both my mobile phone and alarm clock were set to wake me up at five, but I heard nothing,” he says. Not really so strange bearing in mind that the robbers had sprayed gas through the side window that Seufert had left open to let in fresh air. When the French police arrived, they explained that he’d been lucky – it was his open window that ensured his survival. If the gas had not been diluted by the fresh air, he could have died inside his cab.
Seufert says he has colleagues who have been forced out of the driver’s seat at gunpoint and had to stand helplessly by while their entire rig was hijacked, and that there is almost no truck driver who does not have a nagging sense of fear constantly at the back of his mind.