Driver Safety series, Part 1: Safety is always a priority for truck drivers but involves more than driving practices

Driver Safety series, Part 1: Safety is always a priority for truck drivers but involves more than driving practices
Truck driving is among the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. While most fatalities among truck drivers result from highway accidents, even when trucks are parked, drivers are too often the victims of violent crime.

As any truck driver knows, the occupation requires adherence to one principle above all — safety.

Never mind the strict Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations truckers must follow, statistics noting that the majority of accidents involving trucks are the fault of the other drivers, or the untold investments in safety that truck manufacturers and carriers have made to enhance the safety of both the equipment and the drivers operating it. No doubt, safety is of paramount concern for truckers. But what is forgotten is that safety is a two-way street.

Truck driving is among the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. and has been for many years. Most fatalities among truck drivers result from highway accidents and the many causes of those accidents. But even when trucks are parked, drivers must remain alert. Too often, drivers are the victims of violent crime.

In an internet search for information about crimes committed against truck drivers, the results instead offer screen after screen of cases in which drivers are the alleged criminals. In fact, in 2016 an FBI crime researcher wrote, “If there is such a thing as an ideal profession for a serial killer, it may well be as a long-haul truck driver.”

Regardless of the articles and reports that paint drivers as criminals, if one digs deep enough, they’ll find drivers are at high risk of becoming victims of violent crime. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that between 2003 and 2015, at least 110 truck drivers were murdered on the job. A few of these homicides took place while the driver was at the wheel, but the majority happened when truck drivers were stopped. Incidents have occurred when drivers were fueling their truck, honoring hours-of-service regulations or even sleeping in a truck’s berth.

Most driver homicides happen during robberies or theft of cargo; aside from safety behind the wheel, a driver is also responsible for the safety of the cargo being hauled. In any case, specific incidents have given the FMCSA cause to initiate studies to increase driver safety, including the need for increased parking and, more recently, a three-year study of violence against women and minority drivers.

“Jason’s Law,” a federal law passed in 2012, was enacted in the wake of perhaps the most notorious case of violence against a truck driver. Jason Rivenburg was a driver who, in 2009, was unable to find a safe parking area in St. Matthews, South Carolina. Because the wait for his delivery point to open was only a couple of hours, Rivenburg parked in front of an abandoned gas station. Soon he was face to face with a killer. Rivenburg died because a criminal was willing to kill him for $7 — and because of a system that offered no protection to accommodate truckers when passing mandates requiring them to remain parked under hours-of-service regulations. But Jason Rivenburg is just one case in which a truck driver became the victim of violent crime.

  • 2012: A driver stopped at a privately owned overnight-parking facility after a day on the road. While asleep in his berth, another driver appeared at his door with a pry bar and screwdriver. Upon making eye contact, the other driver left, climbing into a truck that was parked so close to the potential victim’s truck that when he confronted the other driver, who was prepared to, at minimum, steal items from the truck, he had to stand on the other driver’s step. With the victim clinging to the side-view mirror, the other driver started his truck and headed for the exit. Eventually, the victim lost his grip, fell and was run over by the truck. The truck then backed up and ran over him again. Somehow, the victim survived.
  • 2015: After one of the drivers was cut off, the driver of a passenger vehicle and an older truck driver stopped in a construction zone, exited their vehicles and argued about who was at fault. The passenger vehicle’s driver began beating the truck driver, who defended himself with a tire iron. Construction workers separated the two and did not notify the police.
  • 2015: A charity-truck driver was accused of driving too fast through a residential area. Residents of the area used vehicles to block the driver’s exit, and one resident began beating on the trucker’s windshield with a hammer. Other residents circled the truck, two carrying firearms. Police de-escalated the situation and led the truck driver out of the hostile situation.
  • 2018: A motorist whose vehicle was being towed from an accident slashed the throat of the tow-truck driver. The driver survived.
  • 2018: A 65-year-old truck driver was attacked while in the cab of his truck, struck with a blunt object and beaten. The attacker then began tossing items for the truck onto the ground before continuing to beat the driver.
  • 2020: A truck driver in Memphis escaped becoming the victim of an alleged highway sniper’s actions when a sniper hit his truck with at least two rounds.

These are just a few of the acts of violence committed against truck drivers in the U.S. But the problem is an international concern. Between early 2018 and August 2019, protesters in South Africa called for only the nation’s citizens to be given truck-driving privileges inside its borders. Violence against foreign national drivers became common. By early autumn 2019, at least 230 drivers had been murdered by the rioting protestors.

Clearly, violence against truck drivers is a concern for carriers, government agencies, and drivers and their families. It is likely that many incidents go unreported, and those involving workplace violence committed by co-workers are largely unreported, remaining internal company affairs.

So, how do carriers and federal and state government agencies address violence and protect drivers? Likewise, what can drivers do while on the road to protect themselves? The answers are not easy, and they are complicated by carrier policies and differing laws among the many states truck drivers pass through while traveling. Personal protection is a concern among truck drivers, who are often caught in dangerous situations far from home and along highways they have never traveled.

Yes, safety is the primary responsibility of all truck drivers, but “safety” involves more than drivers protecting other travelers by employing safe driving methods. Personal safety is a concern for every truck driver on the highways. In fact, personal safety is sometimes a matter of life and death.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this three-part series about violence against truck drivers and self-protection, which will explore firearms and concealed-carry laws. These laws differ by state and can place unwitting drivers in deep trouble with the legal system.

Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.
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