Browse Topics

Services

Programs

Tanker Trucks and Terror
Crackdown on Big Rigs Taking Toll on Struggling Truck Companies

audio Exclusively for NPR.org: Tanker Trucks
NPR reporter Jackie Northam reports on the impact of the Sept. 11 attacks on an already struggling transportation industry.

Gasoline tanker truck

Drivers of tanker trucks, like this gasoline big rig, are under intense scrutiny after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Photo: www.HanksTruckPictures.com

Oct. 17, 2001 -- After hijackers turned four jetliners into weapons on Sept. 11, law enforcement officials began clamping down on other modes of transportation that, in the wrong hands, could become instruments of terror. At the top of that list were tanker trucks, especially those carrying hazardous materials.

It’s common for tanker trucks carrying gasoline, liquid petroleum gas or dangerous chemicals to travel down city streets towards their destination. In the New York City and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas, truck drivers have long been able to roll right up to the entrances of many buildings that terrorists might target.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Washington, D.C., officials moved to ban tanker trucks from using streets closest to the Capitol, the White House and other historic sites in the downtown area.

Nationwide, authorities are reviewing the commercial licenses of up to two million big rig drivers, from more than 50,000 trucking companies. NPR’s Jackie Northam reports that the new measures are adding more problems to an already troubled industry.

“We already had 3,700 bankruptcies among carriers of 10 vehicles or more -- which is already the highest level in the past 10 years. So, you have to assume you'll be facing more bankruptcies.”

Robert Delaney, vice president of Cass Information Systems

On any given day, there are approximately 76,000 tanker trucks on America’s roads and highways. John Conley, vice president of National Truck Carriers -- an association which represents 200 tanker truck companies -- says tougher roadside security checks, which can sometimes take up to three hours, are creating serious delays.

Lost time means lost money, says Conley: Some companies say they are losing $2,500 a week because of the delays. Add on cost for other expenses, like increased security, and clients who demand “just-in-time” delivery schedules, and the result will be higher prices for American consumers, he says. “It's going to cost them more to do the same business they've been doing and the shippers are going to have to help pay for that -- and, eventually, the consumer.”

In the meantime, the extra costs and delays could threaten smaller trucking companies. Robert Delaney is vice president of Cass Information Systems, which charts the financial health of transportation companies. He says the trucking industry was already in financial trouble, because of the economic downturn, long before the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We already had 3,700 bankruptcies among carriers of 10 vehicles or more -- which is already the highest level in the past 10 years,” he says. “So, you have to assume you'll be facing more bankruptcies.”

Other Resources

TruckLine.com, a Web site created by the American Trucking Associations.

Cass Information Systems.