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October 27, 2020 12:15 PM, EDT

Florida Program Encourages Truckers to Fight Human Trafficking

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Florida officials recently launched the Highway Heroes campaign, which aims to involve truck drivers in the fight to end human trafficking.

Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) on Oct. 26 launched the campaign, which aims to enlist 500,000 truckers. Human trafficking, which involves the use of force to obtain labor or a commercial sex act, exploits about 25 million people, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking.

The Highway Heroes campaign involves outreach materials, which are mailed to commercial driver license holders, and a new webpage that has resources on how to spot signs of human trafficking and report suspected crimes. Indicators that someone may be a victim include anxious behavior, malnourishment and lack of control over identification documents and money.

“Truck drivers play an important role in our fight to end human trafficking,” said Moody, who serves as chair of the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking. “By spending so much time on the road, visiting truck stops and communicating with each other regularly, these drivers create a powerful network that can be called upon to spot and report suspected human trafficking.”

According to FLHSMV Executive Director Terry Rhodes, more than 500,000 licensed commercial drivers are licensed in Florida. As part of the program, approximately 500,000 letters will be sent to CDL holders by Oct. 30. The letters explain what human trafficking is and direct the reader to the Highway Heroes website, which contains training resources created by Truckers Against Trafficking.

TAT is a national group that educates members of the trucking industry about combating human trafficking. The Highway Heroes campaign offers every trucker in Florida the opportunity to become a TAT-trained driver.

TAT Deputy Director Kylla Lanier said Florida officials’ concerted effort to create the Highway Heroes program represents an example she hopes other states will replicate.

“We are receiving requests for more materials from Florida’s professional drivers and an outpouring of positive comments about their being a part of the solution to this heinous crime,” Lanier told Transport Topics.

Additionally, Highway Heroes will launch a digital media campaign geared toward CDL holders in Florida with messages about human trafficking. The digital campaign will run through January, which is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Some 12,000 miles of highway run through Florida, according to the letter mailed out as part of the campaign. According to the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking, Florida ranks third in the nation in number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“Truck drivers serve as the eyes and ears on our roads — ensuring everyone stays safe,” said Florida Trucking Association President Ken Armstrong. “The members of FTA have made it a priority to train their professional drivers to spot and report human trafficking, with almost 1 million drivers having already received the training nationally. We encourage all Florida commercial truck drivers to become a certified Trucker Against Trafficking.”

Fighting human trafficking has been emphasized at the federal level in recent years. In January, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao challenged industry representatives to commit to practices that help combat human trafficking. Specifically, Chao asked for 100 pledges to combat human trafficking in 100 days, a goal that industry members exceeded.

In 2019, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced a final rule that permanently banned commercial motor vehicle drivers who have been convicted of human trafficking. The rulemaking specifically disqualifies drivers who use a truck to commit a felony involving human trafficking.

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