Preventing Contrabad

Lately, there have been a few news stories around truckers being caught hauling contraband, in particular drugs. Why anyone would willingly partake in such a risky venture boggles the mind. Sooner or later, you will get caught, and any extra “under the table” money you’ve “earned” will mean nothing and it will cost you dearly.

However, there are cases where you could be transporting contraband without knowing it. There was a company decades ago that was running meat loads to Mexico via Laredo. In Mexico, the meat was unloaded, and the trailers were reloaded with produce with all the required paperwork, so everything was spot on legal, except that while in Mexico, persons known or unknown were removing the door seals, pulling out all the insulation and rolling the doors with marijuana and reinstalling all the seals.

No one knows how long this practice had been going on, as it was only detected by an RCMP officer training a drug-sniffing dog at the border. The only thing that saved the driver was that he could prove the trailer was sealed by US customs before he hooked up to it, therefore he couldn’t have stashed the marijuana in the trailer. In another case, plain bad luck cost a company and its driver a lot of money.

The truck cleared customs at Sarnia and was on its way to the highway when another truck cut him off and damaged the front of the truck. While they waited for the police and a service truck to arrive, they asked the driver to back into a dock so they could teach some new hires how to properly inspect a truck. The driver had no issues with the request and was soon backed in. They opened the doors, removed the first 4 skids on the trailer, and to their surprise, the rest of the trailer was filled with untaxed cigarettes.

Again, the driver was released as the trailer had been loaded and sealed before he picked it up, but the load and truck sat in the impound yard in Sarnia for at least 10 years. So what can you do to try and avoid being used as a drug mule? First and foremost, a little common sense goes a long way. When picking up a trailer, empty or loaded in areas with notorious drug problems, make sure you do a very thorough pre-trip inspection.

If the trailer is supposed to be empty, open the doors and use a lock to lock the handle so you can’t be locked inside. If you have a reefer, don’t just look in the trailer, climb in and check the reefer unit’s air intake to see if anything is stashed in there. Also, check the cold air chute on the ceiling to see if something is hidden in there. Check the walls, ceiling, and doors for any fresh repairs. If any such evidence is found, contact your company to verify if any such work has been done recently.

If not, there’s a good chance contraband has been stashed behind the repairs. Check the condition of the door seals. Again, if they look like they’ve been tampered with, contact your company. Other hiding places criminals use to try and hide contraband are inside the reefer or heater unit, inside the tires, suspended in the fuel tank, behind the tail lights, inside the landing gear handle, or any number of other places, some obvious, some very obscure.

The penalties for getting caught vary from place to place, but at minimum, you can forget about a career in trucking. You will face a huge fine and jail or prison time is almost a certainty. You will lose your job and if you’re not a Canadian citizen, you could face deportation as well. One thing to always remember when you’re crossing the border, either north or southbound. Until you are released by customs, you have next to no legal rights at all. You are quite literally “guilty until proven innocent”.

Don Taylor has been a professional driver since March 1985.  In 1994 he made the jump to driving tractor trailers, and has accumulated over 3.5 million miles, including over 4 years of driving turnpike doubles in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.  He is currently hauling flat decks across North America.