Armed Robbery Growing Problem for Truckers

The FBI reports an increase in robberies at rest stops.

March 10, 2010— -- Eleven years ago, Tom Connors signed up for the trucker's lifestyle.

He's never looked back.

"It's a different kind of life, but you get used to it," Connors said, leaning back against the grill of his 18-wheeler and grinning as the burnt orange paint of his truck gleams in the Arizona sun.

"There's nothing like it," he added. "Being out on the road always gives you something new to talk about."

But in recent years, there's been a new threat to his lifestyle, aside from the normal road hazards.

"You always have to be alert when you're out there," Connors, who's in his early 50s, said. "It's just not safe."

Just recently, a truck driver in Phoenix was robbed at gunpoint at a rest stop in the early morning hours. The two gunmen forced him to drive to another location where they stole his cargo and took off, getting away with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of electronics.

The driver was not hurt in the incident.

According to the latest FBI statistics, 859 trucks were robbed in 2009, up from 767 trucks in 2008 and 672 in 2007.

Clayton Boyce, vice president of public affairs for the American Trucking Association, the largest national trade association for the trucking industry, is skeptical that truck hijackings are in the rise.

"You never know if it's a case of more people reporting the crime or if it's really going up," Boyce said. "I know there's more attention being placed on the problem now, though."

But Connors said he is one of those statistics. Last November, he was robbed at a truck stop in Ohio.

"I was sleeping in my truck, and then all of a sudden, the whole vehicle started to shake," Connors said. "I thought it was because of the storm outside, but later I looked down between the seats where I keep my bag and it was gone. And then I checked my door and I said, 'Oh, my.' I forgot to lock the darn thing."

Dangers of Fatigue

Connors believes his own fatigue was to blame.

"You know, as a truck driver, you're driving maybe eight to 10 hours a day," Connors said. "You get a little fatigued."

Susan Chandler, executive director of the ATA Safety Management Council, said while fatigue may cause some drivers to be careless on the road, it can also lead to safety issues at the rest stops.

"Drivers need to remember a few things like, don't leave the tractor-trailer unlocked, don't leave keys in the vehicle, don't leave the vehicle unattended, and if you must leave it, then leave it in a visible location," Chandler said.

At any given time, Chandler said these truck drivers are carrying all sorts of goods, from brand-name clothes to high-priced electronics.

"Depending on the type of motor carrier, type and size of equipment and the kind of product, it can range from hundreds of dollars worth of products to over a million dollars," Chandler said.

According to the ATA, more than 10 billion tons of goods are hauled across the country each year by truck, totaling close to 1 million loads a day.

Security Precautions

Boyce said hijackings are a major concern, so some carriers are stepping up their security efforts.

"There are some carriers that are putting tracking devices on the cargo or trailer itself," Boyce said. "It's kind of like the lo-jack used for cars and it can help locate the goods if they're stolen."

But Boyce said that doesn't mean the drivers are safe.

"There was one incident in South Carolina awhile back where a driver was killed for $7 in his wallet," Boyce said. "Seven dollars. That was it. They didn't touch his cargo at all."

Paul Ashenhurst, who has been driving trucks for 15 years, said safety is always on his mind.

On this trip, he's transporting chemicals. As he walks around his big blue rig, he kicks the tires and wipes a smudge off the door.

"It takes its toll after awhile and you can only be so careful," Ashenhurst said.

Ashenhurst said he always tries to park in well-lit areas and even has a baseball bat with him in his truck. He said that regardless of the FBI's statistics, he's always watching his back.

"It's just about being aware and constantly watching your surroundings," Ashenhurst said. "There ain't no safety out here."