In early April, the U.S. Transportation Security Agency announced the creation of a Surface Transportation Security Advisory Board. The board’s mission is to help TSA think its way through possible terrorist threats to the nation’s supply lines and devise regulations and procedures to thwart them. Appropriately, three of the 35 voting members of the board come from our industry, two from the American Trucking Associations and one from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Thirty-five voters on a committee is a lot of people, and these are still early days; we don’t know, and at the moment can’t know, how effective it will be or what kinds of ideas it will come up with. The mere fact of its existence, however, is a good thing, for several reasons. One is that it highlights, in a public way, the importance of surface transportation in this country and the potential threat a major disruption could cause.

We’re all familiar with the basic statistics: our economy depends on trucks to deliver nearly 70% of all freight transported in the U.S., accounting for $671 billion worth of manufactured and retail goods ($1.16 trillion if you count truck trade with Canada and Mexico). That’s a lot of stuff.

What we spend less time thinking about is how much of that stuff might blow up if mishandled. Trucks transport a significant portion of the more than three billion tons of hazardous material that gets shipped every year, much of which consists of flammable liquids. (Especially gasoline. We move a lot of gasoline.) It’s estimated that there are more than 800,000 hazardous materials shipments in this country every day.

It’s also estimated—this is another number you’ve heard a lot—that right now we have about 60,000 fewer truck drivers in the United States than we need. And it’s not getting better; in three or four years it could be a hundred thousand. A lot of solutions are being tried, including lowering the federal age limit for an interstate license to 18. The industry, mostly, is behind this idea, which was submitted to Congress last year in the form of the DRIVE-Safe Act. I’m behind it, too; we’ll see what happens.

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