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Arnold & Itkin LLP Truck Accident Blog2020JulyWhy Are Tank Truck Accidents So Dangerous?

Why Are Tank Truck Accidents So Dangerous?

Truck accidents have a reputation that’s well earned for being some of the worst types of motor vehicle accidents on the road. Each year, truck accidents claim the lives of thousands of people and injure even more. Since they can weigh tens of thousands of pounds and are large, 18-wheeler accidents are devastating for those in smaller motor vehicles.

Tanker trucks have come a long way in the United States. Their origins are traced back to the 1880s when horse-drawn tanks would carry fuel and oil to where it was needed. Then, in the early 1900s, oil industry giants such as Standard Oil started to use motorized tankers. With this, the era of cargo tanks as we know it today was born!

Of the thousands of trucks that Americans rely on to transport and deliver goods each day, one of the most common types being tanker trucks. Also referred to as cargo tanks, these vehicles, and their drivers have the responsibility of safely transporting liquid materials, many of which are hazardous or volatiles.

Goods transported by cargo trucks include the following:

  • Gasoline (petrol)
  • Diesel
  • Industrial chemicals
  • Ethanol
  • Radioactive materials
  • Gases
  • And more

In some instances, a tank truck can carry multiple substances at once by utilizing compartmentalized tanks. This way, a driver can make more deliveries to different types of customers at once to increase their productivity and cost-effectiveness along a route.

Since the chemicals and gases in tanker trucks tend to be hazardous, accidents involving them can be very serious for all parties involved.

The following are common during tank accidents:

  • Fires
  • Explosions
  • Toxic exposure
  • Chemical burns
  • And more

Tanker Truck Rollovers

One of the most dangerous aspects of tanker trucks is their tendency to be involved with rollover accidents. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), about 1,300 cargo tank rollovers occur each year. In other words, nearly four tanker trucks are in a preventable accident each day.

There are three myths that people often believe regarding rollovers. First, many blame poor driving conditions that cause tanker rollovers. However, the FMCSA has determined that bad weather and other road conditions are only a factor in about 4% of rollover accidents. Second, speeding is another common factor to blame in rollover accidents. Yet, only about 28% of cargo tank accidents involve speeding. Finally, some blame inexperienced drivers for tipped over tank trucks. However, more than half—66 percent of all accidents—involve a driver who has 10 years or more of driving experience.

Causes of Tank Truck Rollovers

So, if speed, driving conditions, and driver inexperience are not to blame for tank truck rollovers, what is? According to research from the FMCSA, there are three major causes of truck rollover accidents.

Driver Error

Rollovers frequently happen because of a simple mistake that drivers of all experience levels can make. In fact, about 78 percent of rollovers happen by a mistake that a driver could have prevented. It only takes a moment of negligence to cause an accident that has a lifetime of repercussions. For 90 percent of rollover accidents, a driver has had a previous history of rollovers. Finally, about one out of every five rollovers is caused by a driver not paying attention to the road.

Vehicle Condition

The FMCSA has also found that poor vehicle maintenance leads to rollovers. For example, the agency found that about 54 percent of rollover accidents involve trucks with inadequately installed or maintained brakes.

Size of Loads

Finally, the size of tank truck’s load is a significant factor in 63 percent of rollover incidents. While trucks carrying dry goods frequently have a load that is secured and doesn’t move, tanker truck drivers must account for the “slosh and surge” effect, especially when their tank is not filled. The less full a truck is, the more a driver must account for the sloshing and surging effect of their liquid haul. A half-full tank can mean a dramatic shift in weight distribution when a truck turns. Additionally, if a tanker truck needs to stop quickly, their load can “surge” toward the front of the vehicle, displacing weight unevenly and making it even more difficult to prevent an accident.


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