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Chew'n Up Our Image; Spitt'n It Out

OVER THE past several years, a radiator screen with the silhouette of fangs has become increasingly popular among owner-operators. Even though it is clearly in bad taste, it is now showing up on tractors pulling tank trailers.

One can only imagine what impression is made when an average motorist looks in the rearview mirror of her sport utility vehicle and sees a befanged tanker rig bearing down on her. It's probably not going to be a positive impression.

It may seem trivial to dwell on radiator screens with fangs in an editorial in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC. However, the radiator screens are a serious issue. Anything that negatively impacts the tank truck industry's image should be avoided at all costs.

Even before September 11, the tank truck industry faced some image issues. The industry gets plenty of bad press anytime a tanker rig accident ties up rush hour traffic or forces the evacuation of a neighborhood.

Newspaper and television headlines over the past year highlighted the public risks posed by fatigued drivers, creating the impression that most of the drivers on the highway are so exhausted that they pose an imminent risk to the safety of other motorists. The Teamsters did everything within their power to damage the image of the trucking industry as a whole by whipping up public hysteria over the prospect of poorly trained or unqualified Mexican truck drivers operating across the United States.

Now there is concern that tank trucks could be used in future terrorist attacks. The first hint of this came in the days following the attacks in New York City and Washington DC.

It all started with an announcement on September 20 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had arrested an Arab in the Chicago IL area with reputed ties to Osama bin Laden. The FBI revealed that the man had a commercial driver license (CDL) with hazardous materials endorsement.

Within days, additional press reports were published detailing the arrests of 20 individuals of Middle Eastern origin who had obtained fraudulent CDLs. Eighteen of the licenses had hazmat endorsements.

It didn't take long for the rumors to begin that would-be terrorists may have been planning to use tank trucks loaded with hazardous materials in a further wave of terrorist attacks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) instructed tank truck carriers to review all driver records, and FMCSA is in the midst of a nationwide review of trucking companies that handle hazardous materials.

In mid-October, Washington DC-area police were put on special alert to watch for possible truck bombs. By early November, the Department of Transportation was urging tank truck carriers to be on highest alert. That was followed by press reports that terrorists possibly were targeting bridges in various parts of the West Coast.

With all of these very real concerns, we don't need anything like fangs on radiator screens to unnecessarily raise public fears. It's more important than ever for the tank truck industry and its drivers to do everything possible to project a positive image.

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