Stay safe – keeping trailers secure

Theft from trailers is a major problem, but there are ways to upgrade the security of trailers using traditional and newer devices

Theft from trailers is a major problem, but there are plenty of ways that operators can upgrade the security of their trailers, using traditional and newer devices.

This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue of Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. To read the full issue, click here.

Truck drivers in Suffolk were warned to be extra vigilant back in January 2021 after goods were stolen from a truck parked up near Ipswich.

The truck was parked up on Felixstowe Road in Levington when thieves broke into the container at the back and stole items from inside.

This was just one of more than 60 cargo thefts from trucks reported tht same month, amounting to more than £1 million worth of goods stolen according the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (NAVCIS). Other thefts included a high-value cargo of fine wines stolen on 4 January from an HGV in Basildon, Essex.

It highlights how prevalent theft from trailers is in the UK. While figures are often difficult to pin down, according to Paul Nunn, marketing manager at Maple Fleet Services, it is a threat that operators need to address. “Most commercial vehicle or cargo crime is to do with theft of goods from the back of a vehicle,” he says.

“For the career criminal, the opportunity for capturing potentially high value load is easier from their point of view when it is loaded on a truck than when it is in a warehouse. You don’t have security guards, fencing, access control in terms of cameras, facial identification, ID cards etc to get past. Whereas once the load is on a trailer, commonly all you have to do is find a way to get inside it.”

Nunn adds that it is “extraordinary” the number of trailers on the road that aren’t properly secured. “In our opinion – although of course I have a vested interest in selling locks and alarms and security equipment!” he laughs. “But when you look at the Calais Crisis, when there were problems at the border [of France] of people getting on board, research at that point said as many as one in two vehicles crossing borders didn’t have basic security measures in place. That was only four years ago, and nothing has really changed in that time. When you talk about security measures it could be something as simple as a plastic seal that doesn’t secure the doors but does given you an indication if someone’s been in.

“Literally anyone can walk up to a trailer door and probably open it, certainly with some fairly minor tools. Upwards of 80% of theft comes from just bypassing locks or doors.”

Nunn adds that a lot of theft from trailers is carried out by organised criminal gangs. “It isn’t generally opportunism – those days are a way behind us,” he says.

“They are [often] looking for a certain type of product. You might expect the highest value items to be most at risk – phones, laptops, tech items – but that isn’t necessarily the case. The phrase used is ‘theft attractive’; that is stuff that can be easily moved on and is difficult to track or trace. What is most targeted is food and drink – and has been for a number of years – [such as] coffees, drinks and meats and that is because they aren’t traceable; once they have been consumed, they cannot be traced.”

Nunn adds that clothing, footwear, cosmetics, perfumes and tobacco are also popular targets for criminal gangs.

Buying time

With security, time is crucial. “It is the old adage – security is about buying time,” says Nunn. “If the right circumstances are there, it is difficult to stop a determined criminal breaking into a vehicle. But what you aim to do is to slow them down and make it as difficult as possible by building in as many layers of security as you can.

“You have to secure the trailer in the most effective way you can; locking systems are the best way to do that but there are variations. You can have a simple padlock-based system that costs a few hundred pounds. If you are going from a to b and your vehicle is going to be parked up for a time, that is an effective security measure. But if you are accessing the [trailer] three to four times a day, I’m not so sure it is the best system as you are reliant on the driver using it the right way, always applying the padlock, not losing the key etc.”

Lock it up

Fitting additional locks can add an extra level of security to trucks. For instance, TrailerLock manufacture a range of locks including TrailerLock and FridgeLock, which fit on standard and refrigerated trailers respectively and are made from steel plates that sit flat to the trailer door frame or doors and bolt cutters or crowbars can’t get around or under them, a spokesperson said.

TrailerLock comprises a tamper-proof steel case, anchoring bolt, security nut and pocket wrench and fits most trailers. The security device is aimed at operators that have trailers carrying high value goods or are likely to be left unaccompanied.

TrailerLock also has a universal security nut system, so only the person with the wrench can open it, which is proving effective as an added anti-theft device, the spokesperson said. 

Raising the alarm

Another security device to consider is an alarm. As Nunn notes, when they come out of the bodybuilder, most commercial vehicles have little security and usually no alarm system fitted. “For criminals targeting vehicles [parked up] overnight – such as in an unsecured parking location – and the gang is deciding which vehicle to go after if one is fitted with a trailer alarm that goes off as soon as they breach the doors, I would venture that is a significant deterrent,” he says. “If they do carry on it would only be for a short period of time. But that assumes people are in the vicinity to respond.”

However, in Nunn’s opinion, alarms are less effective on vans. “If at 3am you hear an alarm going off, is anyone responding to that, and, if so, will they do so in the window of opportunity to prevent the thief doing what they need to do?”

Access control  

While locks and alarms are traditional security measures, increasingly technology-based solutions are becoming popular. For instance, Maple Fleet Solutions has recently begun a rollout of a tag validation system. This can be particularly effective in large haulage operations where hundreds of drivers are employed taking out different trailers during the week. Traditionally, this would require having hundreds of keys in circulation – with the attendant risk they could get lost or fall into the wrong hands. But with key validation, a driver can log in for their shift, get the fob gets validated for 12 hours, 24 hours or whatever time is needed. Outside of that timeframe, the fob doesn’t work until it is validated again.

“It is a great way to limit the risk you are exposed to when you have a large fleet or large number of operatives.,” says Nunn.

Telematics influence

Trailer manufacturers are also working hard to make trailers more secure. For instance, Schmitz Cargobull has recently upgraded its door locking system (TL3) to work with the Geofence feature in its telematics system, Trailer Connect. “In trailers equipped with the door looking system TL3 the dispatcher can create a geofence area where the doors will automatically unlock when entering the defined location, and then automatically locking the doors when leaving this area,” explains Stephen Mallet, key account manager at Schmitz Cargobull. “This eliminates the need for a driver to leave the cab to lock or unlock the doors. The doors can be operated in three ways – via an app on their phone, via the keypad on the trailer or via the telematics portal. Each event is logged in the system showing the date, time, and who completed the action.

“The TL3 is invisible from the outside and when it is locked, a sword-shaped pin moves out of the roof beam and reliably prevents unauthorised access to the cargo area. The unlocking function in the TL3 door locking system is protected by a PIN and can be activated manually at any time via the TrailerConnect portal, the ‘beSmart App’, the display on the S.CU cooling unit or the Schmitz Cargobull keypad on the trailer’s bulkhead. 

“The TL3 door locking system is operated from within the frame of the trailer and therefore increases safety of the load and driver as there are no external parts to operate.”

Schmitz Cargobull has also worked on another vulnerable type of trailer – the curtainsider, which is particularly prone to being slashed. “Schmitz Cargobull offers antitheft curtains with wire mesh or the lath-free PowerCurtain,” says Mallet. “The structural rigidity of the body with PowerCurtain is certified to DIN EN 12642 Code XL and is achieved with a high-strength tarpaulin with aramid belts and integrated steel wires. Aramid is low-stretch and used to fabricate bullet-proof vests.”

Further developments

Schmitz Cargobull has further innovations in the pipeline to further enhance trailer security, such as the TrailerConnect CTU3 (Telematics control unit), which is equipped with motion sensors that detects and alerts to movement when uncoupled to a tractor unit.

“Other developments will include ‘tour deviation’ where Schmitz Cargobull telematics will monitor journeys and alert if any deviations from the agreed journey occurs,” says Mallet.

“Schmitz Cargobull also work with security company, Bosch Mobile Security, which offers round-the-clock monitoring of the trailers. We are working on a smart security package for trailers which will, beside the door locking system, also include an audible alarm system when door is opened without permission.”

This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue of Commercial Vehicle Engineer magazine. To read the full issue, click here.

Dan Parton
Dan Parton
Dan Parton is a former editor of Truck & Driver, the UK’s biggest selling truck magazine. He is now writes for The Van Expert and The Truck Expert.

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