WASHINGTON – Paul Barnes spends eight to 10 hours on the road each day. He drives across bridges and through cities. He already makes a point of looking for drunken drivers and disabled vehicles.
Now he's enlisting in the war on terrorism.
Barnes, 46, of South Portland, Maine, is one of the 3 million truck drivers the industry hopes will sign up for training in how to spot suspicious activities that could indicate a potential terrorist attack.
"Sept. 11 really made me aware of what could happen," said Barnes, who hauls paper products for Pottle's Transportation of Bangor, Maine. "You take for granted nothing's going to happen because we live in a pretty safe country. Now something like this happens and it's 'Wow, what can you do to make things different."'
The trucking industry plans to offer classes for drivers and provide a toll-free number to report anything unusual, with the information forwarded to law enforcement agencies.
"We know what should and should not be on the highway," said Mike Russell, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, an industry group. "If we see something wrong that has security implications, we're going to make a call."
The program will be an extension of what truckers already do, such as routinely alerting local police when they see erratic drivers or broken-down vehicles.
This time, the stakes are higher. There has been concern that terrorists could use a truck hauling gasoline or other hazardous materials to kill thousands of people, the way hijackers turned four commercial airliners into flying bombs on Sept. 11.
CIA official Robert Walpole recently told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that terrorist groups or rogue nations were less likely to fire a missile at the United States than to use trucks, ships or planes to deliver chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
Last week, the Transportation Department's inspector general said there were insufficient federal and state safeguards to stop would-be terrorists from illegally obtaining commercial truck driver's licenses.
State transportation officials have stepped up surveillance of bridges and tunnels and have begun training maintenance workers on what to look for.
Truckers will be asked to monitor bridges, highways, tunnels and ports.
Barnes said he's already keeping a closer eye on his surroundings as he crosses bridges, looking at not just the traffic in front of him but vehicles going the other way, stalled cars and even pedestrians walking across the span.
Drivers are also being asked to watch out for other truckers.
"Most trucks are identifiable. You have your name on the truck, your truck number's on the truck," Barnes said. "When you see these trucks that are covered up, you have the feeling inside that something's not right. You want to make the call and let someone else be aware of it."