The Mustardseed Truck Stop on Highway 167 in Sumner, Wash., wins little love: “filthy,” “disgusting,” “overpriced” are but a few of the many scathing reviews offered by truckers reluctantly paying $13 for a 12-hour break on its premises.

It’s also a former crime scene, where, on March 8, 2016, 52-year-old Piotr Pietrzykowski was stabbed to death in his white cab. He was driving for Top Line Express, a company founded in 2011 in Schaumburg, Ill.

His violent death, reported only by the local media, remains unsolved more than a year later.

Pietrzykowski’s slaying is one of 27 reported driver killings nationwide between 2010 and 2015, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data. It also prompted a debate on whether truckers should be allowed to carry guns for protection.

“It’s the Wild West. You’re on your own,” said Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents 158,000 members.

Unlike the Wild West, though, where many carried a six-shooter and rarely hesitated to use it in their own defense, today’s drivers face a much different and more challenging environment.

Frustrated drivers are increasingly at risk as a drastic shortage of parking — an estimated 300,000 spots are available for more than 3 million drivers — makes dark, remote spots the default place for mandatory rest.

Truckers most often were killed on duty — 12 slayings — while parked on a local road, street or highway, according to BLS data. Another seven were killed in a parking lot or garage not owned by their direct employer. Truck drivers were the victims of 5 percent of reported workplace homicides between 2011 and 2015, according to the federal agency.

While there is no national law prohibiting truckers from carrying properly permitted firearms, it’s still a questionable practice. Myriad city, county, state and trucking company policies make it nearly impossible for truckers to legally carry firearms in their trucks.

That leaves drivers who choose to bring a firearm on the road caught between complicated state and local laws, and their fear of being attacked while alone and far from help.

“You have a very deep need for national reciprocity so that our rights for self-defense get extended across the United States,” said Evan Nappen, an attorney in Eatontown, N.J., who concentrates on firearms and weapons law. “Most civilians are not as concerned with this issue, but this is drivers’ living.”

But others said there is little data available that would show whether firearms would better protect drivers from crime.

“I think you have to weigh the safety and security of the truckers and whether the ability to carry a weapon increases their ability to protect themselves,” said Tim Lytton, a law professor and gun regulation expert at Georgia State University. “We don’t know the extent to which arming truck drivers or allowing them to carry across jurisdiction is going to increase their safety or decrease their safety.”

Even if a driver has the legal right to own, or carry, a firearm in his or her home state, each state, and sometimes each county or even municipality — like New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — may impose its own much tougher laws.

A driver found carrying a gun in New Jersey faces a minimum mandatory prison sentence of 3 ½ years and as much as 10 years, Nappen said. He recently successfully defended a Marine, a military police officer who brought his MP-issued handgun home to New Jersey from his workplace in Quantico, Va.

“Truckers are more likely to have this problem than anyone I can think of,” he said.  “They know they’re vulnerable to violence, and they also don’t realize how harsh New Jersey law is. The individual has to choose between who they fear more, cops or criminals.”

Short of guns, drivers are relying on other things they are allowed to carry in their cabs and which they can use as weapons, including club-like objects such as heavy-duty MagLite flashlights, tire irons and pry bars. Some take dogs in their trucks to alert them if someone gets too close to their cab.

Robert Palm, a father of two young children and a 26-year veteran driver based in Albuquerque, N.M., told Trucks.com he is careful to protect himself, but wouldn’t provide specifics except that, “I guarantee you, the end result will end in hospitalization.”

“Most of what truck drivers are dealing with aren’t so much legislative issues, it’s company policy issues,” said Kevin Michalowski, a firearms advocate.

Trucking companies’ insurance policies may prevent them from allowing their drivers to carry firearms, said John Goldberg, a professor at Harvard Law School.

“If the companies have liability insurance policies, it is possible that the insurers have told the companies that the insurance will not cover shooting-related liabilities,” Goldberg said.

Calls placed to companies large and small, and to safety experts to discuss how they teach drivers to remain safe without a firearm offered little insight. No one wants to discuss it.

“I don’t think there’s any training for safety,” said Taylor of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“I’m afraid we just don’t have much to say on the topic because it varies significantly carrier to carrier and driver to driver,” said Sean McNally, spokesperson for the American Trucking Associations.

Yet drivers of armored vehicles have had the legal right to carry firearms across state lines since the passage of the Armored Car Industry Reciprocity Act, or ACIRA, in 1993.

UPS provides its employees with explicit training, said one UPS driver who asked that he not be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the shipping company’s safety policies.

“Do not leave your cab. Do not engage in anything. Do not put yourself in harm’s way,” he said they’re told.

Other company precautions include GPS tracking of every UPS vehicle, he said. Company drivers are given a credit card that can be used with their own PIN and only to buy fuel, the driver said.

“We’re not allowed to carry guns,” he added.

Like others drivers —now constrained by the use of electronic logging devices that track their driving time and tighter regulation and oversight of work hours — the UPS employee said he worries about finding safe places to rest.

“It’s very dangerous. The 30-minute rest rule has made it worse,” he told Trucks.com. “You always have to be thinking ahead. There’s only so many places you can stop on the turnpike.”

Chad Boblett, a long-distance driver and owner-operator who also runs Ratepermilemasters, a Facebook page for drivers with almost 11,000 members, said he can feel vulnerable on the road.

“I’m a very easy target for anyone who wants to rob me,” Boblett said.

On a recent delivery, veteran trucker Palm ended up “40 miles from the nearest rest stop” in an isolated part of Connecticut. He had to stop to comply with the hours of service rules governing how long drivers can work before taking a rest break.

“I sat there for 10 hours,” said Palm, who founded and runs truckersfinalmile.org, a 4-year-old registered 501c (3) charity that covers the costs of returning drivers who’ve died on the job — whether killed or having died a natural death — cross-country to their bereaved families.

With the drastic shortage of parking spaces “you have no safe haven,” Palm said. “I believe every trucker should be armed.”

Editor’s note: Trucks.com staff writer Clarissa Hawes contributed to this report.

Related: Truck Manufacturers and Regulators Work to Improve Safety

About The Author

Caitlin Kelly

Caitlin Kelly frequently writes for The New York Times, where she has published more than 100 articles. Winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award, she is a former reporter for The Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and New York Daily News. She is the author of “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” and “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.” She can be found on Twitter: @CaitlinKellyNYC.

26 Responses

  1. Annonyomos

    Allowed vs able is what most folks need to come to the realization of.

    Reply
  2. Dasraa

    In the wild west very few ever carried a handgun! Most people at that time had long guns NOT hand guns, you wach too many western movies!!

    Reply
    • Larry

      How would you know? You most certainly weren’t there. Cowboys carried a six-shooter. It depends on where you were in the “wild west”. The average city dweller didn’t, or if he/she did, it was concealed. Lots more than you think carried a six-shooter and more often than not, also a Winchester, Henry or some other long gun.

      Reply
  3. jack burton

    ” “We don’t know the extent to which arming truck drivers or allowing them to carry across jurisdiction is going to increase their safety or decrease their safety.””

    Let’s put Lytton out there in a truck for a couple of months and see if he changes his mind once he’s out of the Ivory Tower. And I don’t want to spam but click on my name to see if maybe something I have can help you if you’re a trucker.

    Reply
    • Larry

      I carried concealed while I was a driver for 30 years and took care that the company didn’t know. I quit driving over-the-road when the practice of companies using Qualcom with paperless logbooks. I have heard stories of drivers having to shut down in remote areas when their driving hours were up and dispatchers calling drivers to tell them that their ten hours were up and to find a place to pull over or they would shut their trucks off. Log books were instituted by the government to protect truck drivers from unscrupulous companies requiring them to drive too many hours. When I first started driving, the old timers told stories of dispatchers giving them a bag of pills with their freight bills to a destination a thousand miles away or so and telling them to not stop til they got there. Or words to that effect. It was murder out there until the government cracked down on the trucking companies. Now the log book is our enemy. Now there is an invisible supervisor looking over our shoulders who knows if we “scratch a gear” or stop for coffee once too often or whatever. I started driving to get away from nitpicking supervisors who insisted that I drive their way. (no no, that’s not the way I want you to do it) When my ten driving hours, later eleven, were up 30 miles short of a safe place to stop for a sleeper break, I went ahead and drove the 30 miles and adjusted my log book later. Can’t do that with “paperless” log books. After I stopped the long haul, I took a local driving job hauling crude oil from nearby tank farms to a local refinery. A bit boring, but I made good money and best of all, home every night with my honey who rejoiced when I started doing that and LOG BOOKS WERE NOT REQUIRED!

      Reply
      • levi

        way to go larry. same story here just different name. i still carry but i feel much better staying local. days are far more predictable.

  4. Daniel Anderson

    This article is somewhat sensationalizing the dangers on the road. The bigger danger would be if the crazy yahoos who drive all started packing heat. A stupid parking lot accident could easily blow up to a weapons incident. If truckers were given the right to carry there would be more accidental gun fire in the trucks, more gun shots from hothead truckers, and more suicides than actual shootings for the purpose of self protection.

    Reply
    • Ted

      Gee, a little biased and condescending? Hotheaded truckers? It’s bad enough that drivers are treated like second class citizens. Any trucker carrying would have to have a CCW from their own state to begin with. Additionally all the claims about arguments turning into gunfire etc., were ranted about when CCW’s started getting issued , and guess what? None of it happened. This is why reciprocity is needed and especially for drivers.

      Reply
    • Peter

      Exactly. How scary do these numbers really sound? average of 5 drivers killed a year? Out of how many drivers out there every day in this country of 300+ million people. But these are some of the same people who panic over “The Muslims” for attacks that statistically speaking dont happen either. But we average a mass shooting a day in this country and tens of thousands of individual gun deaths annually and the only answer these genuises can come up with is more guns?

      Reply
      • Nick

        ??? That 5% who is it what if u were 1/10% of that 5 in the wrong place at the wrong time . I would like to Carry also there are Laws to screw us also I shoot someone with a gun breaking in while I’am sleeping i shoot first now his family Sues me for killing him or he killed me and walks away . If a CRIMINAL THINKS there is a gun on the other side of that door it makes him think TWICE. So yes to your LIBERAL THOUGHT Yes the answer is more guns . In the right hands it lowers crime or the out come .

      • Joe

        you’re an idiot! Make people take gun training classes at a reasonable cost and have more guns. Would a robber rather attack a home or person in Chicago or Phoenix? Since there are strong gun laws in Chicago and lax gun laws in Phoenix he would choose Chicago. It’s obvious more guns equals less crime. Why do you think the cops carry them? Get real.

  5. walt

    Hey Daniel, I get the impression you probably voted for Obama and Clinton, right. You are probably not an NRA member. Probably not even a truck driver…

    Reply
    • Bob

      Hey Walt, you are probably 100% right. Truck drivers are stuck in gun-free zones wherever they go. Ridiculous laws that don’t work but only serve to make more victim zones. There is no reason to fear a trucker with a gun, since trucks that are being rented to commit mass killings show that a truck is a much more effective weapon than a gun. A professional trucker with handgun would be no more danger to the public but could defend himself.

      Reply
  6. Bill

    well if this is still the usa i have a right to carry a firearm, end of story

    Reply
  7. Peter

    I’ve never heard of a driver being rbbed or killed that had a dog with them. They are also good for companionship and exercise. People trained in stress shooting conditions are only about 30-40% accurate, you think some average guy woken up and panicky shooting a gun is a good idea? Get a dog or just grow a pair.

    Reply
  8. DannyX

    A firearm is the last line of defense anyway. The first is avoiding West Memphis.

    Reply
  9. Pat

    “The right of the people to keep and bare arms, shall not be infringed ”
    Screw all those politicians who claim they can prevent us from keeping and baring arms

    Reply
  10. Jason

    No idea how I landed here but interesting read. My first reaction is who and why are people robbing truck drivers? I ask because I grew up during the late 70’s early 80’s and maybe it was TV or the movies, but truck drivers were bad asses you didn’t mess with, it was with respect we kids would do the “rope pull” gesture through the window hoping to get the return horn honk!

    Anyway, what about stun guns? Are those allowed? Why don’t truck companies provide a one time training sesh and equip every driver that requests one?

    Another idea is partnering with locations you know you can find every 10 miles, anywhere, like McDonalds or something, that have 2-3 designated rest spots for drivers. Even better, Motel 6 or something similar, work out special rates like $10 nights.

    Maybe these are crazy ideas but there’s got to be a way to make drivers feel safer if the companies are not going to buck up and pay a little more for insurance and let drivers carry. What’s insane is that drivers who work in teams of two in ARMORED vehicles can carry, but the lone long hauler carrying a trailer full of valuable consumer electronics can’t?

    Reply

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