Fleet News

Security spotlight: Keeping one step ahead of the thieves

In an ideal world, fleet operators would buy their vans and run them in standard spec without fear of having their valuable cargo pinched.

We do not, of course, live in an ideal world. We live in a world in which light commercial vehicles are at risk from thieves every minute of the day and in every conceivable way.

And while the vehicle manufacturers have made great strides in lock technology over the past few years, it seems that the thieves always manage to stay one heist ahead of the game.

The problem is that vans are rather like huge tin cans and can be burgled in a variety of ways.

Experts would be the first to admit that for a determined thief with plenty of time, no security measures will work. But most thieves are opportunists – ones who spot that a driver has accidentally left a door open and pounce; or ones who skulk around in car parks and motorway service stations at night waiting for easy pickings.

And these low-lifers CAN be beaten. The secret is to fit vans with secondary locks with a high visual presence.

The one thing these people don’t have is time – and with a big fat lock fitted to the outside, a thief will look at your van, decide the effort isn’t worth it and (hopefully) move on to someone else’s.

ExpressLock has been making such systems since 1993 and now boasts such high volume fleets as the Royal Mail, Business Post, DHL and Crowfoots among its clientele.

But the problem, according to managing director Tony Withey, is that many fleets only come to him for help after they’ve been hit rather than before. And it is not just the thieves who pose a threat.

He said: ‘Most thieves are opportunists, but believe it or not the driver is the next worst enemy, especially those engaged in multi-drop businesses. It is all to easy to leave a door open when delivering a parcel and that is when an opportunist will strike.’

The slamlocks manufactured by ExpressLock lock automatically when each door is closed, thus eliminating the problem.

The security sector that ExpressLock operates in is a rather secretive place. After all, the more detail we report here, the more a potential thief may learn about foiling the systems.

Thus we do not have detailed pictures of the working of the locks.

Withey is also careful not to comment on the potential shortcomings of the standard locking systems offered by the van manufacturers.

He said: ‘Their locks are the primary ones on the van – ours are the secondary systems and will always enhance any van and make it safer.’

Suffice to say that if a driver loses the key, it’s not much good calling out the RAC, unless the breakdown man happens to have a massive tin opener in his armoury!

Withey first got into security when he was in the parcel delivery business and became frustrated at the lack of adequate aftermarket security systems.

He is a founder member of ExpressLock, which grew from being a cottage industry to occupying its present site in the shadow of Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham, employing seven people.

The initial development of the locks was carried out between ExpressLock staff and security experts at three local universities.

Development is ongoing. The firm offers a variety of locking systems for back and front doors, which can either operate independently or in tandem with the van’s central locking system.

Locks can either be specified at the time of buying a van – in which case they will be fitted by the dealer prior to sale – or as an aftermarket purchase. In this case, locks can be fitted at the customer’s premises and each one takes about an hour.

Lost keys can cause havoc for a busy van fleet. Imagine the situation where a driver has 30 parcels to drop off and locks himself out of the vehicle, thus rendering it immobile and the parcels unretrievable. ExpressLock has developed a masterkey system where a fleet of vehicles has different keys but the fleet manager has a master which can be used in such emergencies. And it is not only people pinching cargo that is a problem nowadays – what about people adding unwanted items to vans?

Some parcel delivery vehicles carry cargo which is about to be shipped out of the country by plane. Imagine a terrorist breaking into a vehicle after the cargo has been checked and substituting a genuine parcel for one containing explosives.

In addition, stolen vans are often used in robberies and terrorist bombings.

Withey said: ‘We are living in a bad world at the moment and we have to do everything we can to keep ourselves safe. A strong, visible supplementary lock sends a message out loud and clear to the thief that there are easier targets elsewhere.

However, too often the decision is taken to fit extra locks after the horse has bolted. And with cargo often being high value, such as tobacco, electronic equipment or tools, operators need to take every precaution they can in the ever-increasing daily battle against crime.’

One aspect of security that frustrates Withey is the fact that insurance companies at present refuse to offer lower insurance premiums for vans fitted with supplementary locks.

He said: ‘I have had a meeting with the insurance companies trying to lobby them to consider reducing premiums for operators if supplementary locking devices are fitted to vans and trucks, because statistics now confirm that the chances of a thief breaking in are dramatically reduced.’ There is, however, a final word of warning. Withey said: ‘No locking systems, however robust, can guarantee 100% against forced physical entry.

One operator’s van was attacked and thieves, under no real time pressure, managed to prise the tops of the rear doors away from the van body, put a cable round them and use another vehicle to pull the doors off their hinges.’

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