“Really, it’s no different than speed limit laws,” David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) said of various state laws governing traveling with firearms. “A truck driver may be cruising along at 65 or 70 miles an hour and cross into a state with a lower speed limit.”
In such a case, the driver needs to adjust.
When it comes to self-defense, carriers also plan for such changes. In coordinating with a team, carrier-employed drivers can use the same tactics to avoid potentially violent situations and plan routes that decrease the likelihood of drivers being placed in unsafe situations that could require the use of self-defense tactics.
Your priority as a truck driver is safety. You are concerned for the safety of your truck and cargo, as well as the safety of everyone on the roads. When parked or otherwise stopped, your concern likely shifts to personal safety — protection from someone wishing to do you harm. In the first two parts of this series, we touched on some problems related to traveling with firearms.
With those issues in mind, how can you, the driver, work with your carrier to keep you out of harm’s way while on the road? The first and best option is avoidance — a team effort including carrier employees and drivers.
Communication is the first line of defense.
Your carrier holds a degree of responsibility when it comes to your personal safety as a driver. The effort begins before you’re assigned a route, and it continues until you return to the point of origin.
Before your trucks leaves a terminal, a route planner should work with you to develop a path of travel that takes into account road conditions, construction zones, lane blockages and similar factors. Your personal safety while traveling should be a priority as well. The availability of safe, secure parking areas is important, as is avoiding areas with high crime rates or recent violent acts against truck drivers. Arrival times planned around a destination’s hours of business also come into play. Drivers, dispatchers and customers need to combine knowledge to choose a travel plan as efficient and safe as possible.
During the time between your departure and your return, constant communication is vital.
“Drivers, customers, dispatchers and route planners need to communicate and pay attention to industry news and information feeds impacted a planned route of travel,” Heller said.
Routes may need to be adjusted because of road-blocking accidents, unexpected construction zones or issues you learn from chatter on your CB radio. If you reach your destination before opening hours, you should work with your team to find a safe place to park. As several cases have proven, choosing to park in unsafe locations for even a couple of hours can be a fatal decision.
When push comes to shove, unarmed drivers have options for self-defense.
Perhaps the most-often considered tool for self-defense is a tire iron, and sleeping with one within arm’s reach is perfectly legal. Another everyday item you likely carry aboard you truck is a broom. While any broom can be used to offer some protection, you should consider purchasing one with a fiberglass or metal handle. A household broom with a wooden handle is likely to break after one swing; a metal or fiberglass handle can knock your attacker out cold.
As a driver, you carry various tools on your truck to make repairs or to provide a means of escape in the case of accidents. Pry bars, hammers and even large wrenches are not likely to break, and they can help you escape a potentially dangerous situation. A number of manufacturers design simple tools, such as tire gauges, that play double-duty for self-defense. Tire gauges built into the handles of clubs, special umbrellas and knives are options. Even a jackknife can be enough to deter a potential attacker — but make sure you know how and when to use it.
“Pepper spray” or similar gels may be your choice of tools for self-defense. These devices come in sizes and forms ranging from those disguised as pencils or carried on keychains to those the size of small fire extinguishers. When discharged, the liquid or gel can disable an approaching criminal through ingestion or when the substance comes in contact with the eyes. The best sprays have ranges of at least 20 feet and do not require a direct hit to be effective. Take care when selecting a spray device. You need a product strong enough to disable an individual under the influences of alcohol or drugs. While any spray is better than none, law-enforcement-grade sprays are available online or from stores specializing in self-defense products.
Some self-defense product vendors sell self-defense packages or kits. Items included in the kits include extendable steel batons that can be used as a striking tool or glass breaker. Some have pointed tips that can inflict pain on an attacker. Other items found in kits include pepper spray and a “ready knife,” a plastic knife you hold in the palm of your hand, ready to be used if an altercation becomes physical. Finally, a flashlight with stun gun capabilities is another choice of self-defense for many drivers.
Let’s talk tasers.
The TASER, a brand name now used as a common term to describe a self-defense tool producing electric current, has been growing in popularity in the U.S. Similar to stun guns based on technology first developed in 1745, tasers came along about 1970. Stun guns inflict pain and are useful when the device touches an attacker, but tasers are effective from distances up to 30 feet. They come in various shapes and sizes; many are similar to handguns and are carried in holsters. They are becoming a first choice of defense in law-enforcement agencies, with protocols guiding officers as to whether nonlethal or lethal force is needed.
While tasers are affordable and, for the most part, reliable, state laws related to tasers differ nationwide. All but five states and districts consider tasers to be legal without a permit. The others — Hawaii, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. — have banned tasers. Other states do not ban them, but Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Connecticut, Delaware, New Mexico and North Carolina all have requirements ranging from permits to background checks and specific locations where tasers can be carried. As with firearms, it pays to be familiar with state laws before choosing to carry tasers while traveling. And training is all important.
Choose a shield, not a sword.
Regardless of the self-defense tool you choose to employ as a truck driver, you should be thoroughly familiar with it and how it can used in self-defense. If necessary, undergo training for specific devices such as pepper spray and tasers. A self-defense course is always a good idea.
Keep in mind, by definition a self-defense tool is a “shield” for defense, not a “sword” for offense. While the line between defense and offense can cross in a violent situation, as you plan, remember lethal force is a last resort. As your father may have taught you, a “jab in the eye with a sharp stick” is enough to neutralize most any attacker.
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.