Originally created 06/12/06

Truck driver training helps fight terrorism



Truck driver Jim Haselden sees everything in your neighborhood.

"I'm out there when most people aren't," said the 53-year-old driver for Dixie LP Gas. "It gets boring driving a truck, so I'm always looking."

Those sharp eyes are the latest recruits in America's war on terrorism, and Georgia is making sure all of its truckers are trained to know what to watch for.

Beginning next month, all drivers applying for a commercial driver's license in Georgia must complete the Highway Watch anti-terrorism training program. Highway Watch started eight years ago as a basic safety awareness program but quickly expanded after Sept. 11, 2001.

Previously, the Peach State was slow to jump on the Highway Watch bandwagon, but now Georgia is becoming the first state to make the training a must for its commercially licensed drivers.

Ed Crowell, the president of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, said the new requirement will mean thousands more drivers will go through Highway Watch training on top of the 13,000 already trained, greatly enhancing public safety.

"There are advantages to the individual because the training emphasizes how to be more observant about the world around us, which is good for personal safety," he said. "But on a larger scale, it really is a way people can do their part to keep the country safe. It may sound a little over the top, but it's not."

Once drivers finish the one-hour training seminar, they receive an identification card with an 800 number so they can report any possible dangers to Highway Watch authorities.

Highway Watch-certified motorists have made dozens of reports that led to law enforcement intervention.

For example, Mr. Crowell said that in Florida a truck driver called the toll-free number after noticing a driver in a small car pumping 100 gallons of fuel.

"It turns out the guy was using it to fuel a boat so he could smuggle in illegal immigrants," Mr. Crowell said. "And these immigrants weren't here to just get jobs; they were potential terrorists."

Mr. Haselden said the program has made him a more careful driver even after 15 years of experience on the road.

"It kept me out of at least one accident" because of renewed vigilance, he said.

Funded by the Department of Homeland Security, Highway Watch is a free program for any driver wanting to take part, not just for the commercially licensed drivers who will be required to participate starting next month, according to Mr. Crowell. At this point, though, professional truck drivers are taking advantage of Highway Watch the most.

Susan Sports, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Driver Services, said Georgia's requirement starting July 1 applies to new commercial driver's license applicants and commercial license holders who are renewing.

"Basically when they come in, we'll check to see if they have the card showing they've done the training," she said. "If they don't have it, we'll give them the information about how they can sign up."

The training can easily be done in 60 minutes or less, either by watching a DVD, VHS tape or CD showing warning signs to watch for, Mr. Crowell said.

His agency also will send Highway Watch trainers to companies, upon request, to explain the tactics for groups of 30 or more.

Last summer, Caroline Guay, who is in charge of training for Dixie LP Gas in Martinez, had all six of her commercial drivers take part in Highway Watch training.

"If you go out of your house, it's for you," she said. "It's great that they picked the trucking industry to do this across the board ... but I think everyone needs to have their eyes open and their minds open."

Reach Amy Allyn Swann at (706) 823-3338 or amy.swann@augustachronicle.com.

GETTING LICENSED

Who needs a commercial driver's license in Georgia?

- Anyone driving a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more

- Anyone driving a vehicle designed to transport more than 15 people including the driver

- Anyone driving any size vehicle that requires hazardous material placards

- Drivers ages 18 to 21 can get such as license but are restricted to driving in Georgia only.

Source: Georgia Department of Driver Services

FOR MORE INFORMATION

- Call the Georgia Motor Trucking Association at (770) 444-9771 and ask to speak to someone about Highway Watch.

- On the Web, visit www.gmta.org or www.highwaywatch.com. By July 1, the Georgia Motor Trucking Association will have the training footage uploaded to its site so drivers can use the Web for the whole process.

- Other training means include live classes, DVDs, CDs and VHS tapes.