The life of an ex-smoke bomber truck driver, who worked at a live export plant in Dunkirk has been quite illuminating over the past few months. He was fired by his employer when he fell asleep behind the wheel of a load of coconuts.
He’s being treated as a criminal for a misdemeanour. His employer refused to give him a satisfactory explanation for what happened. He was even ordered to pay his replacement the one day’s wages he lost as a result of his firing.
He’s fighting back, and he is doing so against many obstacles, some of which have a lot to do with technology.
That he fell asleep behind the wheel of a load of coconuts is hardly complicated. But he couldn’t have fallen asleep behind the wheel of a load of rocks, because those are loaded onto trucks by hand, and they need to be followed from the quarries by a couple of men. And, regardless of whether a couple of men are necessary, driving loaded trucks over rough roads is a huge responsibility. Because they are lorry drivers, they’re all subject to background checks, checking against their terrorist-related history, or their personal characteristics and impressions.
Normally, if any of these facts disqualify you for any job, you’re out. But these checks are outmoded, and they are available only to relatively small numbers of people. The French authorities, for example, have only a tiny number of people whose criminal backgrounds they are able to demand of truck drivers. In short, most truck drivers don’t have those checks available to them, and so they aren’t, at least for now, disqualified from driving trucks.
This is a far bigger problem than it initially appears. There’s a big bias in systems designed to screen people for terrorism, and one of them is the balance between the advantages of having a person who’s primarily reliable and the disadvantage of carrying large amounts of cargo. If a person is reliable, then it’s impossible to sack them, even if they fall asleep behind the wheel. If they are unreliable, then even if they fall asleep behind the wheel, it’s just as easy to fire them.
The pilot’s transport of the plane crashes into the ocean. Martin J. Kemp / EPA
The way to avoid this problem is to provide close scrutiny of the backgrounds of people who are putting dangerous cargo in trucks. One way to do this is to hire a civil aviation agency that carefully watches aviation traffic to make sure that pilots aren’t flying a plane that’s about to crash into the ocean.
That agency could do the same for truck drivers. Obviously, the government wouldn’t have to impose a uniform standard on all road-based security agencies, but it could make airports, for example, check the backgrounds of pilots flying in cargo containers more closely than they do at ports.
Unfortunately, this isn’t going to happen, because governments just don’t like to make any controversial decisions, particularly now. Yet truck drivers are being screwed over at this very moment, and there’s no easy way around it.