June 6, 2017

TSA Issues Report on Threat of Terrorists Misusing Large Commercial Vehicles

Holland & Knight Alert
William P. Byrne

A six-page Transportation Security Administration (TSA) memorandum focusing on the potential misuse of large commercial vehicles was recently issued by the TSA's Office of Security Policy and Industry, Engagement Surface Division – Highway and Motor Carrier Section. The unclassified report, "Vehicle Ramming Attacks: Threat Landscape, Indicators, and Countermeasures" (the TSA Report), states that large commercial vehicles, if misused, pose grave risk to the public, especially in locations where large crowds have congregated.

The TSA Report identified 17 known vehicle ramming attacks worldwide in recent years that resulted in 173 deaths and 667 injuries, including the attack in Nice, France, in July 2016. That attack, carried out by a terrorist who drove a large truck through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day, killed 86 innocent people and injured another 434. Fortunately, none of the commercial vehicle ramming attacks listed in the TSA Report were carried out in the United States.1 However, the TSA expressed concern that terrorists may be planning such an attack and warned that "[n]o community, large or small, rural or urban, is immune to attacks of this kind by organized or 'lone wolf' terrorists."

The American Trucking Association commented on the TSA report and identified existing measures to thwart such attacks. "There is no more dedicated, professional and patriotic group of people than truck drivers, so our industry is disturbed by the possibility that someone would use our vehicles as weapons," the association said in a statement. "Much of what is in this TSA guidance – avoiding area of congestion due to special events, exercising awareness of suspicious activity and practicing common sense safety and security habits – are already hallmarks of industry best practices. The commercial trucking industry deploys significant security measures like vehicle tracking, alarms and specialized locks, as well as ongoing driver awareness training and driver vetting."

In its report, the TSA suggested that the commercial vehicle industry – i.e., fleets, drivers and truck rental companies – be made aware of this significant threat and of the need to be vigilant and to immediately report any suspicious activity. The report also included a list of potential "Vehicle Ramming Countermeasures" that government officials should bring to the attention of the industry "with the aim of preventing, protecting, and mitigating the use of commercial vehicles in terrorist attacks."

In response to the concern posed by this threat, the TSA has posted relevant information and online video training as part of its First Observer Plus Program and has established a telephone hotline to report suspicious activity: 844.TSA.FRST/844.872.3778. 



1 The TSA Report identified a November 2016 automobile attack in Columbus, Ohio. More recently, on June 3, 2017, three terrorists drove a van onto the sidewalk on the London Bridge as part of an attack that killed at least seven innocent victims and injured dozens of others.

Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult competent legal counsel.

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