Truckers and Self-Defense Series (Article 7 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


When it comes to fighting for more safe parking for trucks, few people are more vocal and influential than Desiree Wood, the founder of REALWomenInTrucking.org. “The parking hasn’t kept pace at all,” said the Florida-based driver and activist. “Even existing parking is designed for 48-foot trailers. Those were once the norm, but haven’t been for over a decade.” And while she’s supportive of Jason’s Law — the addition to the 2012 Transportation Reauthorization Bill that provided $6 million in federal funding to address the nationwide truck parking shortage — she feels that more could be done, which is why she can be found attending planning meetings from Maryland to Texas.

“A lot of it is just educating one person at a time,” Wood asserted, “and hoping [he or she gets] passionate enough to go out into [his or her] community and talk to people.” One of the reasons municipalities are resistant to adding more parking is that local crime seems to gravitate to truck stops, she said. This sometimes necessitates law enforcement supervision. “It shouldn’t be that way,” Wood added. “[A] truck stop should be a central point of the community, like a Starbucks, where kids know they’ll be safe in the bathrooms.”

Additionally, Wood said that the major truck stops are a driving force preventing the addition of more parking. “They don’t want the competition,” she said. “TA, Love’s, Pilot and Flying J are the big four. They’re very influential. But their properties are in disrepair, they sell food that will give you a heart attack, and they charge you $3 to wash your clothes.”

Parking Issues in the Trucking Industry

Another disconcerting trend Wood has noticed is the proliferation of shady towing companies partnering with the managers of formerly truck-friendly stores to shake down drivers for money. She recently became a victim herself at a Walmart in Perry, Georgia. “They come in the middle of the night,” she reported. “They wait until you’re asleep. Then they boot your truck or they lock your air lock, and knock on your door and say, ‘I’ve been trying to wake you up for an hour now.’”

Lewie Pugh, a vice president with the Owner Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA), said that there is nowhere to park in the cities and that concrete must be poured on federal or state land. “That’s where trucks go mainly. In and out of cities,” he said. “Take Pittsburgh, for example. There used to be a law that they can’t build a truck stop in Allegheny County. Now there aren’t any truck stops because of some stupid law.”

Pugh takes a dim view of Jason’s Law.[3] He said that much of the money has been allocated to electronic signs displaying the number of parking spots available at rest stops down the highway. “I don’t know how many meetings I’ve been in since I came on to OOIDA,” he declared. “It’s the same problems. The government does research and studies and never does anything with the information. We need to pour pavement, just somewhere to park the trucks.”

Wood, however, said she’s starting to see signs that things are moving in the right direction, particularly in the states of Maryland, Texas and Florida. All three have recently held meetings to gather input from truckers on how to improve their respective parking situations. “I’m just hoping that one of these states will turn out to be the flagship,” she said. “Because these are the states that are really reaching out to the drivers.”

The Gray Area of Concealed Carry

Wisconsin-based driver Guy Smith was having a typical workday in June 2016 when he crossed the Illinois-Wisconsin state line going northbound on I-94. At Kenosha, Wisconsin, he pulled his big rig into the weigh station and onto the scale. Knowing he was legal, he waited for the light to turn green so he could go on his way.

Instead, an officer told Smith to pull around back. What Smith didn’t know was that an overhead camera had revealed a revolver in an open briefcase on the floor of his cab. It was the loaded Ruger Security-Six .357 Magnum that he had been carrying ever since he was mugged on the job years earlier.

“They inspected me and asked if I had a firearm,” he said. “I cooperated and admitted it.” Smith did not have a concealed carry permit, but he was under the impression that this wasn’t a problem under Wisconsin state law, so he was confused when he was detained for an hour. Eventually, the officers let him go, but not before issuing him a citation for having a concealed weapon in his vehicle.

Just 50 minutes up the highway in Milwaukee, Nik Clark, founder of Wisconsin Carry, Inc., was looking for a test case. The Wisconsin State Legislature had passed Act 35, legalizing concealed carry, in 2011. But whether or not a resident could legally carry a loaded handgun in a vehicle without a permit was a gray area, he said.

Rolling Home

“Guy’s case was unique in that it was clean,” Clark stated. “He was a military vet who hadn’t even committed a speeding violation. It was a perfectly clean case for us, which is why we were interested in funding representation in that case.” Clark set Smith up with John Monroe, a well-known gun-rights attorney based outside of Atlanta, who immediately began drawing up multiple defenses.

“Part of the theory we had was that Guy, being a trucker, both lived and worked out of his vehicle,” Monroe said. “So, in addition to being a vehicle, it was both his residence and place of business — both of which are legal to carry a gun [within]. I think I would have gotten some traction, but we didn’t get the chance.” That’s because the State of Wisconsin dropped all charges. The prosecuting attorney, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, decided he was no longer interested in pursuing the case in August 2017. But he said it was not because he didn’t think he could win.

“The case was scheduled to go to trial on a date when I had five other cases scheduled,” Binger said. “The way our judge was handling things was that he ranked the cases by order of priority. This case was given a higher rank than a sexual assault case that I needed to try. I needed to get that done.”

Smith, who gave up trucking over the incident, admits that traveling with a loaded handgun in his cab without a permit was a risky move. “Luckily, I got stopped in Wisconsin,” he said. “If it was in Illinois, I would still be in jail. New York? They’ll lock you up forever.”


Endnotes

[3] The U.S. Department of Transportation’s second Jason’s Law truck parking survey was due out in early 2020.

Truckers and Self-Defense Series (Article 7 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