The two biggest terrorist bombs in U.S. history were delivered to their targets in rented trucks, a fact that has drawn increased attention to security measures in the truck-rental industry.
But most of the changes taking place in security procedures thus far have been in response to the more ordinary crime of vehicle theft.After experimenting with photographs of customers and finding them of questionable value, U-Haul International Inc. started taking customers' thumbprints at a bit more than one-third of its 1,100 company-owed rental offices. Com-pany spokeswoman Janet Cooper said testing of the procedure started a year ago, unrelated to either the World Trade Center or Oklahoma City bombings.
Cooper said the thumbprints are aimed at stopping the theft of equipment. On average, she said, 0.5 percent of the company's equipment is not returned; the thumbprints are being tested at locations where the figure is 1 percent or greater.
"The results are yet to be documented," she said. "They are spot-checking these test markets, and it appears it is being successful decreasing theft. But we think it is more as preventive than enforcement."
The bombers in New York and Oklahoma City both used trucks from Ryder Consumer Truck Rental. Dave Dawson, spokesman for Ryder System Inc., said the FBI had asked Ryder not to comment on company security procedures that helped lead to the arrest of Oklahoma bombing suspect Timothy J. McVeigh.
He said Ryder would prefer that any changes in security procedures be made industrywide.
"We're talking about what's best for the industry, what's best for our customers," said Dawson. "If we came up with a better answer, it's not in our best interest to keep it to ourselves. It's not the way to compete."
Pennsylvania state Rep. Richard Olasz recently introduced legislation to require vehicle-rental companies to photograph their cus-tomers and keep the photos for six months. He said the bill was prompted both by terrorist action and the use of rental vehicles by drug dealers.
J. Michael Payne, president and chief executive of the Truck Renting and Leasing Association, said he's heard discussions of similar measures on the national level.
Payne said the industry would like to see better computer access to customers' driving records, so it can identify a customer using a false driver's license, as McVeigh allegedly did, or a suspended license.
"I think it's in the public interest, and in interest of supporting highway safety, to provide access to these records on a real-time basis," said Payne. He said the industry would take a look at any pro-posals to photograph or fingerprint customers.
"There's nobody in the business of renting trucks who wants to see their equipment used by criminals to do such a horrible thing," said Payne. He said he hopes regulations respond to the needs of law-enforcement professionals, not just to public emotions in the bombings' wake. And he has doubts that state legislation would be effective.
"A lot more good would be done if we didn't attack this on piecemeal basis," said Payne. "If there needs to be tightening up of procedure somewhere, I think we need to do it in a thoughtful environment."