Trucking Companies Policies

Considering the high-value loads and frequent trips to crime-ridden areas, it would seem logical to arm over-the-road truck drivers. But virtually all major trucking companies prohibit firearms outright. And it’s difficult to get a reason why. Swift Transportation, J.B. Hunt Transport, Schneider, CRST International, Knight Transportation, C.R. England and US Xpress did not reply to interview requests. Representatives of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), an organization that represents the interests of these large firms and others, declined to be interviewed.

Sara Edmondson, the safety officer for medium-sized Great Plains Transportation out of Fargo, North Dakota, was willing to go on the record, however. “Every trucking company has some sort of variation of safety officer,” she said. “If a customer is looking at us to haul freight, and we have no safety structure? It’s a no. The same goes for poor safety records. We’re not going to get that business.”

Edmondson said that if her company doesn’t comply with rules and regulations, it could lose its Department of Transportation number and go out of business. “A lot of my job is writing reports,” she said. “What was the cause of the accidents we were in? And then attacking those causes and trying to eliminate them. Every time a driver leaves our yard, risk assessment is involved.” When asked why her company bans firearms, she mentioned the liability issues the company’s drivers face traveling between all of the lower 48 states. But she didn’t elaborate beyond that.

Other Reasons for Banning Firearms

A commonly held belief is that trucking companies would be uninsurable if they were to allow drivers to carry firearms, but Matt Van Syoc doesn’t believe that is the case. He’s a broker with Indiana-based insurance firm Marvin Johnson & Associates, which holds a policy count of 4,000 and $70 million in premiums. “When we do our underwriting questions, we never have to ask about firearms,” he said. “We fall back on the policies of the motor carrier. If they have a policy in writing that states you have to have a permit and use your weapon responsibly? That’s up to the employer, the motor carrier.”

Drolshagen has a less charitable explanation. He believes the reason large trucking companies ban firearms is that they treat their employees so poorly. (It’s true that the annualized turnover rate at large carriers — fleets with more than $30 million in annual revenue — stood at 83 percent, according to recent ATA reports.[5]) Drolshagen also has a standing bet with anyone who will take it: $1,000 cash to the first person who can point to the line in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations Pocketbook that bans firearms.

So far he’s kept his money.

Less Lethal Self-Defense Weapons

Of course, firearms aren’t the only way a truck driver can fend off a burglar or would-be attacker. Tire thumpers, cans of wasp spray, tasers and pocketknives are used by truckers as self-defense weapons with varying degrees of success.

Jerry McDowell, a 78-year-old former ironworker, keeps his old iron-working hammer in the door of his truck, just in case. He also kept a tomahawk in his cab until a police officer who had pulled him over told him to get rid of it. “I bet you’re going to tell me you use this for work,” the officer said.

Non-firearm self-defense options such as pepper spray, tactical pens, collapsible batons and knives may offer a defense option for truck drivers, but there will still be legal consequences.

The problem is, in the eyes of the law, many of these alternatives are no different than using a handgun in self-defense. No matter what tool is used, an act of deadly force in self-defense — and any use of knives, blunt-force tools and guns would fall under this category — should be legally justifiable. Self-defense expert Massad Ayoob perhaps puts it most succinctly: “Deadly force is justified only when undertaken to prevent imminent and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent.” Less-lethal alternatives to firearms, such as tasers and pepper spray, aren’t deadly force but must nonetheless only be used when legally justified lest the user find him or herself charged with assault[*].

“Before you take physical action,” said Attorney Adam H. Rosenblum, “you really have to think about if you’re truly acting in self-defense or getting swept up in the emotions of the moment. What one individual might consider self-defense, a prosecutor or judge might view as aggression.” Rosenblum cited the recent example of Daniel Eric Orchard, a truck driver arrested in Laredo, Texas, for spraying insecticide in a motorist’s eyes after a road-rage incident. The 48-year-old was charged with assault for the incident. “There can be a fine line between defense and offense,” Rosenblum said.

Federal Protection for Truck Drivers

It’s “absolutely ridiculous” to Willey that there is no federal law protecting truck drivers who wish to keep a firearm in their cab, especially drivers with hazmat endorsements, such as himself. “We are already fingerprinted and passed FBI and TSA checks,” he said. “We’re tracked everywhere we go with ELDs. We need to be medically certified every couple of years, or every year, depending on your health. We’re subjected to some of the most frequent random drug and alcohol testing. Honestly, how much more could you possibly do to prove we’re upstanding citizens?”

Willey pointed out that drivers of armored cars are allowed to carry firearms. “I’m sure there are some wild exceptions,” he said. “But, in reality, how much money are those guys carrying around? A couple hundred thousand dollars’ worth? I’ve hauled loads of Victoria’s Secret. What’s the retail value on that? It’s not heavy, and it’s packed floor-to-ceiling, front-to-back. That’s not a cheap store.”

Forced Retirement

As for Phillips, he can be found these days at his home in Missouri by the Lake of the Ozarks, wrenching on two Willys Jeep Pickups. He lives off disability and his wife’s income because he can no longer drive truck. His doctor said he had to be seizure-free for five years before getting his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) reinstated. By that time, he’ll be nearly 70 years old.

“For the most part, he retired me, whether I wanted to or not,” Phillips said of his attacker. A suspect, Stormy Adakai, was eventually arrested by tribal police. At the time of publication, he has plead guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Phillips feels strongly that things would have turned out differently had he been carrying a firearm.

“There’d be no issue anymore,” he said. “I’d have used it.”


Endnotes

[5] Sean McNally, American Trucking Associations, “Turnover Rate at Large Truckload Carriers Jumped in First Quarter,” July 17, 2019, https://www.trucking.org/article/Turnover-Rate-at-Large-Truckload-Carriers-Jumped-in-First-Quarter.

[*]Editor’s Note: While wasp spray might fall under the “less-lethal” category, it is a terrible, and perhaps deadly, idea to use a product designed to kill insects to protect yourself from a violent attack. Pepper spray is a much more effective and legally defensible less-lethal self-defense option and barely more expensive.

Truckers and Self-Defense Series (Article 2 of 8)

The Safety Issues Truck Drivers Face | Protection on the Road | On the Road — Jerry Drolshagen Profile Specialized Driver — Mark Schmidt Profile | The Road Calls — Paul Lathrop Profile | Truckers and the Law | Carrying While Driving | Options for Truck Drivers