Truck security remains a narrow issue

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, many trucking industry observers felt demand for truck security technology would jump. However, one year later, few carriers have requested security enhancements for their equipment - though some segments of the industry, especially hazardous materials haulers are now testing such equipment courtesy of the federal government. "There has not been a large response from the trucking industry for security options," said Freightliner LLC COO Roger Nieslen in a speech last March. Michael Von Mayenberg, Freightliner's chief engineer, added that only one Freightliner customer at the time had requested special security features for their trucks. The customer wanted the hardening of external wiring connecting the vehicle's satellite receiver to the truck cab, to prevent the wires from being cut. Other truck OEM executives have echoed Nielsen's comments. "In terms of truck security systems, we are not seeing a lot of demand from customers for these kinds of devices," said Steve Keate, president of the truck group at International Truck & Engine Corp. "We really haven't seen demand for security devices from our customers," added Nick Panza, GM for Peterbilt Motors Co. Even Kenworth Truck Co., which has gone so far as to build a prototype vehicle equipped with an onboard fingerprint identification system for truck operators, said that only a narrow section of the trucking industry is interested in beefed-up vehicle security. The company's T-800 high-tech tractor, unveiled in March, is initially only being targeted at bulk carrier involved in hazardous materials transportation, said Jim Bechtold, Kenworth's chief engineer. Yet the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) is forging ahead with an operational test of truck safety and security technologies to safeguard hazardous material shipments being transported by trucks. Private and public sector participants are sharing the cost of the project, in effect doubling the $2.5 million being provided by the federal government. The two-year effort will include 100 trucks equipped with a variety of existing technologies. The project will test capabilities such as biometric driver verification, off-route vehicle alerts, stolen vehicle alerts, cargo tampering alerts and remote vehicle disabling. The goal is to find cost-effective technologies to protect different types of hazardous cargo from being hijacked by terrorists, said DOT, as there are nearly 800,000 daily shipments of hazardous materials on U.S. highways. One reason why carriers may be loathe to purchase truck security technology is that the cost of new trucks is already set to rise substantially because of the mandated introduction of new low-emission diesel engines after October 1. Those new engines, developed under requirements of a legal settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency in 1998, could add between $2,5000 to $4,000 to the price of Class 8 trucks built after October 1.

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