There’s a lot to consider when planning a route, from transit times to fueling, weather, rest breaks, tolls, personal time for meals and showers, and so much more. Good drivers leave as little to chance as possible, planning in advance for everything they can.
One item that often isn’t included in the plan is cargo security. For the vast majority of drivers, the specter of losing a cargo, or a portion of it, has never been encountered. However, cargo theft is big business — and it’s getting bigger.
CargoNet, a Jersey City, New Jersey information-sharing system, recently released cargo-theft data for 2020.
The CargoNet report stated that 1,676 “supply chain risk events,” involving a theft or attempted theft were reported in 2020, a 16% increase over 2019 events. The totals include events that happened on docks or in warehouses, in addition to cargo stolen from trucks.
Of the total number of events, 61% involved theft or attempted theft of cargo; nearly half (48%) included theft or attempted theft of a commercial motor vehicle, including tractors, trailers and intermodal containers.
The average cargo theft in 2020 was valued at $166,334, up $27,045 from 2019, according to CargoNet.
Five counties were responsible for about 25% of all reported thefts — Dallas County (Dallas), Texas; Cook County (Chicago), Illinois; San Bernardino County (Fontana), California; Los Angeles County (Los Angeles), California; and Shelby County (Memphis), Tennessee.
The report states that truck stops and parking lots at retailer locations were the most common locations for theft.
Of the cargos stolen, household goods such as appliances, cleaning supplies, furniture and toilet paper were the most common. Food and beverage commodities, especially alcoholic beverages, were also popular among thieves. COVID-related supplies such as pharmaceuticals and hand sanitizer were also targeted, along with an entire truckload of ventilators.
Whatever the cargo, there are a few common-sense actions drivers can take to help prevent becoming a victim of cargo theft.
Using seals and locks can help keep amateur thieves out of the trailer, but professional thieves can defeat these quickly. Even so, the heavier and stronger the lock, the more likely thieves will be deterred.
Parking areas are important. Public, well-lit areas are generally best. Choose a space close to the truck stop or the street. The back row may be quieter, but that isolated location also gives thieves a dark and quiet opportunity to open trailer doors.
If possible, back the trailer doors up to a wall, light pole or other object — anything that will prevent criminals from opening the doors more than a few inches. Two trailers parked tail to tail can work — as long as both trucks remain parked.
Unfortunately, some cargo thefts occur when thieves physically confront the driver. If this happens to you, remember that absolutely no cargo is worth your life.
Thieves are growing more sophisticated, and often gather a great deal of information before planning a theft. Some receive inside information from shippers through friends that work inside or from others. Some may even gather information by posing as drivers, calling in for load details, and some talk to drivers, either in person or on the CB radio.
The best practice is to never talk about your cargo to anyone outside of the shipper, your company or law enforcement. Never discuss your load over the CB, as conversations can be heard by anyone with their own radio.
Be very suspicious of anyone asking questions about your cargo, pickup or delivery location, shipper or consignee. What seems like an innocent conversation could actually be information-gathering by potential thieves. If someone appears to be more interested in your trip or cargo than usual, protect yourself. Get a description. Take a photo, if you can do so discretely. Call the police, if necessary.
Criminals often know which warehouses or distribution centers are destinations for high-value loads. They make a point of knowing the routes in and out of those facilities, sometimes better than the arriving drivers. They may even know which truck and trailer to watch for, and have a good spot planned to make a theft attempt.
If you suspect you’re being followed, call the police. Provide as good a description as you can, both of the vehicle and the people in it. Don’t stop in a secluded area unless you can’t safely continue. Find a place that’s well-lit and as public as possible, even if it means stopping in the street. Pull in to the scale house or park in front of a police headquarters.
Finally, a word about weapons: Using a firearm or other weapon to protect cargo is not considered self-defense in most jurisdictions. Some states and municipalities mandate automatic jail time for mere possession of a weapon. Use of a weapon, even a “tire thumper” or pepper spray, could put much more at risk than your cargo. Consider use of weapons carefully.
Cargo theft can happen anywhere. By taking a few precautions, drivers can help protect against becoming victims.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.