Some troubling stats about cargo theft: in 2020, thefts occurred at a rate 23% higher than in 2019, and only about a third of stolen cargo is ever recovered. And it’s not just the total number of thefts that’s going up; the average value of the lost merchandise also went up 41% in 2020.
Cargo theft gives fleet managers headaches like almost no other issue because it often occurs in places they have no way of properly securing. Thieves usually won’t bother trying to unload your products while the truck is parked in a lot with barbed-wire fences monitored by security cameras. Instead, they’ll wait until the driver parks at a truck stop and goes inside to use the bathroom and grab a bite to eat.
That’s leaving aside the more disturbing cases when the driver is in on the crime. A fleet’s own drivers can aid in thefts either by informing accomplices of when the truck is hauling valuable freight and letting them know where the truck will be or by simply leaving the trailer unsecured and unattended. Or they could do both.
What can fleet managers do to secure the cargo in their vehicles? The most effective solutions fall into three categories:
Recruitment and Training
Finding good drivers is difficult enough as it is. But the reality is that some extra screening of candidates will likely pay dividends when it comes to both safe driving and securing cargo. Criminal background checks for new candidates will go a long way. The next steps after hiring, though, are just as important.
Teaching recruits about the various tactics thieves rely on combined with instructions on the safest places to park, the best times and locations for breaks, and methods for locking and monitoring the vehicle from a distance should be standard practice. But training doesn’t end after the first few weeks. Instead, it should be thought of as an ongoing process consisting of both updating best practices and monitoring performance.
When it comes to stepwise procedures that rely on consistency for their effectiveness, there are few better tools than checklists. It’s one thing to instruct a driver on all the best practices for keeping their cargo safely where it belongs. But when every stage in the process adds another layer to your vehicle’s security, and each missed step could result in disaster, relying on any individual’s memory just won’t do.
Giving drivers simple, direct, but comprehensive checklists to fill out for each haul—or even for each leg of the journey—closes the gaps that any would-be thief is always on the lookout for. You’ll have to put some effort into researching and coming up with the items for these lists if using them is to be of any benefit. But the more sound the process laid out on the checklist, the more effective they’ll be in avoiding losses.
And the best place to get information on what your drivers should be doing at each stop are reports on the tactics used by thieves, either those targeting your own trucks or those targeting someone else’s that carry similar types of freight.
Aside from a good lock, the best piece of technology when it comes to securing the cargo in your vehicles is probably a trigger-activated camera. Triggering events for these cameras can include anything from the side door opening to the trailer door being lifted.
Event-triggered video recordings are also a good way to gain insight into the cause of crashes, allowing you to determine whether, for instance, your driver was texting behind the wheel or if the vehicle in front of that driver swerved suddenly into the wrong lane. You can use these capabilities to exonerate wrongly accused drivers, train drivers to avoid risky behaviors (like checking their smartphones), or to lower your insurance rates.
Insurance is of course another way to protect your fleet from losses due to theft. But choosing the right provider and the right plan are not completely separate matters from what kind of cameras and tracking technologies you choose to equip your vehicles with. Indeed, before deciding on what kind of system to install on your trucks, you’d probably do well to contact your insurance provider and see if they have any technology recommendations or offer any deals for coverage on secured vehicles.
Another benefit to telematics and tracking is that the data will allow you to see and avoid areas where your drivers run into problems. You’ll know right where your truck is in the event of a theft, and you may even be able to identify patterns in where thieves make their attempts. This will in turn allow you to send your drivers on routes that go nowhere near these trouble zones. Or if these places can’t be avoided altogether, you can at least warn your drivers to take special precautions.
Beyond covering these three bases, the other thing to keep in mind is that your approach to securing cargo must constantly evolve to be effective. Thieves, internal or external to your company, can be counted on to avail themselves of whatever opportunities you leave open. Gathering data and researching risk on an ongoing basis will allow you to stay one step ahead.
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