Tanker trucks are responsible for transporting a wide variety of liquid substances across Pennsylvania and the United States. Like regular run-of-the-mill tractor-trailers, tanker trucks can cause significant damage when a traffic accident occurs. The large size and weight lead to more severe bodily injury and a higher likelihood of fatalities, especially at high speeds.
Yet, many tankers carry hazardous materials making them ticking time bombs on wheels, which can explode causing catastrophic injuries in a matter of seconds. This makes tanker truck accidents among the most dangerous of all truck-related traffic collisions.
Not all tankers carry hazardous material though. This guide offers a deeper look into tanker trucks, the materials they haul, and the things that make them dangerous. Additionally, we offer some common causes of tanker truck accidents and ways you can safely share the road with a tanker so you don’t suffer harm in a severe accident or cause a tanker accident to occur.
About Tanker Trucks
Tanker trucks, sometimes simply called tank trucks, get their name from their cylinder-shaped trailer. Many tank trunks are tractor-trailers with cylinders instead of boxes, but just as many tankers are straight trucks that do not pivot at the cab of the truck. Tank trucks can haul dry goods and liquid gases, but the majority of tankers haul food grade liquids or chemicals.
Depending on the cargo they are transporting, tanker trucks might be insulated, refrigerated, and/or pressurized. Septic trucks are also a form of tanker trucks that carry raw sewage to a treatment plant. Tank trailers are usually made of metal, most commonly aluminum, stainless steel, and carbon steel. These heavy materials add to the weight of a tanker truck, making them extra dangerous when a traffic accident occurs.
Types of Cargo in Tanker Trucks
Tanker trucks are most widely used in the United States to transport gasoline and diesel to gas stations throughout the nation, including those in the Philadelphia area. Yet, you might encounter tanker trucks that haul a wide variety of materials. Below you will find common food products as well as non-food products that might be in a tanker truck.
Tanker Truck Food Cargo
- Grain and flour
- Milk and other liquid dairy products
- Wine, beer, and other spirits
- Vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, and other food grade oils
- Animal fat
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juices
- Sugar alcohols
Tanker Truck Non-food Cargo
- Gasoline and other petroleum derivatives
- Oil and tar
- Acids and other corrosives
- Dyes and paints
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Radioactive compounds such as ores and isotopes
- Peroxides and other oxidizing substances
Whether carrying food or hazardous materials, tanker trucks pose several risks to those with whom they share the road.
Dangerous Elements of Tanker Truck Accidents
- Fire. When tanker trucks are in a traffic collision, the likelihood of a fire is high. A truck might be carrying flammable materials, but even food-grade trucks that are pressurized with oxygen can burst into flame during a tanker truck crash. Those who fall victim to a tanker truck accident might experience catastrophic burns and other severe injuries.
- Explosion. Like fires, explosions might also occur during a tanker truck accident. A high impact crash easily throws a spark that can ignite highly flammable and combustible substances. Those who are lucky enough to live through a tanker truck explosion, often have life-altering injuries and burns that leave permanent scarring and disfigurement.
- Leaks and spills. When a tanker truck accident occurs, those who share the road are in danger of load spillage. Hazardous materials can put other motorists at risk, especially if toxic fumes leak into the air. Even non-hazardous spillage can cause a mess that leads to surrounding vehicles trying to avoid the spill and resulting in a multi-vehicle pileup. Spills and leaks can also be a product of poor maintenance, failure to properly secure the load and close the tank, or a defective part of the tank.
- Sloshing movement. Tankers who are not carrying a full load risk accidents caused by sloshing, the movement of the liquid within the tank. Sloshing often occurs when drivers go around corners too quickly, suddenly stop, or make any other quick maneuver. When the load shifts, so does the center of gravity of the truck, making it more difficult for a driver to control, which can lead to a severe tanker truck accident.
- Increased danger of rollovers. Related to the previous discussion of sloshing, tanker trucks are more prone to rollovers when a tanker truck accident occurs because their load moves around easily. In truck accidents, truckers often walk away while those in passenger vehicles suffer the impact of the accident. Rollovers are deadly for everyone involved and when drivers and passengers live, they often must deal with catastrophic injuries from which they might never fully recover.
Causes of Tanker Truck Accidents
The causes of tanker truck accidents don’t differ from other types of commercial truck accidents. Even though poor weather and poor road conditions might contribute to an accident, most truck accidents occur on clear days during business hours, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA). Many truck accidents, including tanker crashes, stem from negligent driver behavior, negligent trucking company behavior, or a combination of both. Causes of tanker truck accidents include:
Truck drivers who must hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL), including those who driver tanker trucks, cannot legally use a cell phone while driving, unless they use hands-free operation. In this case, they can push one button to make or answer a call, but all other communication must be done via headset, speakerphone, or some kind of hands-free voice recognition. This federal law has been in place for more than a decade, and many truckers understand the dangers, so cell phone distractions are not as common among truckers as the general public. Yet, many other distractions might lead a driver to cause a tanker truck accident. They include eating and drinking, personal grooming, adjusting climate controls, adjusting radios, daydreaming, watching an event outside of the truck like a car accident, and any other thing that takes their focus away from watching and thinking about the road.
Driving after drinking or taking illegal drugs is not only illegal, but extremely dangerous. When you add the risks associated with tanker trucks, the danger factor increases exponentially. Impaired drivers can easily swerve or fail to properly judge time and distance, causing a severe truck crash. The FMSCA requires mandatory drug and alcohol screening, but that doesn’t prevent all drivers from breaking the law. Those who hold a CDL cannot have illegal drugs in their system, and the legal limit for alcohol is 0.04 percent blood or breath alcohol level, half of what those in passenger vehicles can have. Tanker truck drivers who choose to drive under the influence put their own lives and the lives of others around them in danger.
Consumers and companies depend on truckers to get the things they want and need to their destination quickly. Safety should be a priority, but sometimes it isn’t at the top of the list. Truck drivers, including tanker truck drivers, have demanding schedules that require long days to meet their pick-up and delivery schedules. Additionally, some truck drivers must drive overnight against their internal time clock. This can lead to more than a little drowsiness, but full-blown fatigue. Fatigued drivers can fall asleep at the wheel and cause severe accidents. Additionally, those who have gone without sleep for 18 hours are impaired to same degree as someone with a 0.08 blood alcohol level. The FMSCA has hours of service regulations for drivers, but even those who comply might suffer fatigue and cause a dangerous accident.
Trucking companies and owner/operators are legally bound to keep their tanker trucks in good working condition to avoid having unsafe trucks on the road. Each truck must have regular safety inspections, preventative maintenance, and cannot go on the road with broken parts. When companies fail to maintain their tanker trucks, they put motorists at risk. A mechanical failure can cause a driver to lose control of the tanker and have an accident or faulty parts on the tank itself can cause dangerous spillage, especially when hazardous and flammable materials in the tank.
Tanker Truck Accident Injuries
Those who suffer harm in a tanker truck accident might experience one or more serious or life-threatening injuries that include:
- Head injuries and traumatic brain injuries
- Severe whiplash and other soft tissue injuries
- Deep lacerations that can leave permanent scars
- Back injuries including herniated discs and fractured vertebrae
- Crushed bones and multiple fractures
- Internal bleeding and organ damage caused by impact or cracked ribs
- Spinal cord injuries that might lead to temporary or permanent paralysis
- Amputations when doctors cannot save crushed limbs
- Severe burns requiring multiple corrective surgeries and skin grafts
- Smoke inhalation from a fire or explosion
- Chemical burns when victims come into contact with hazardous cargo
- Radiation exposure when an accident occurs with a tanker carrying radioactive material
Even people who weren’t directly involved in a collision might suffer harm or injury when hazardous materials are spilled in a tanker crash. Victims might inhale chemicals, suffer from radiation exposure, or suffer from contamination of the local water supply. Injuries caused by tanker accidents are severe and can often cause permanent disability and require extensive recovery, surgeries, and physical therapy. If you survive a tanker truck accident, you might not be able to return to your job and likely will face years of chronic pain.
Safely Sharing the Road With Tanker Trucks
You cannot control what truck drivers do on the road, but you can practice safe driving habits to help reduce your chances of being involved in a severe or deadly tanker truck accident. Some tips and considerations for safely sharing the road with tanker trucks include:
- Avoid blind spots. Large trucks have large blind spots that extend as much as 30 feet in front of their truck and 20 feet behind the trailer. Both sides of a tanker also have big areas that are blind to the truck driver. If a driver maneuvers without clearing his blind spots, you might get sideswiped or run off the road. A good rule of thumb is that if you cannot see the driver in his side mirrors, he cannot see you.
- Leave plenty of space. Large trucks require increased stopping distance because of their size and weight. They also need extra time and space to turn, change lanes, and make other maneuvers. Give them the room they need so you don’t risk a collision. Also, try to avoid sudden maneuvers if a truck is following you. If they are following too closely, it’s in your best interest to let the driver pass you.
- Don’t speed. Speed is a factor in the majority of truck accidents. When you are traveling faster than the posted speed limit or too fast for conditions, you put yourself in a situation where you can’t quickly react to a tanker truck. You should especially watch for tire blowouts. The FMSCA reports them as the number one cause of truck rollover collisions. When you have control of your vehicle, you can better avoid a tanker truck driver who doesn’t have control of his.
- Use signals. Sometimes when people drive they get complacent, especially on interstates, and don’t always use their turn signal to indicate lane changes or turns. Let all trucks, especially tanker trucks, know where you’re going. When they can see your actions, especially sudden movements, they can react accordingly and avoid a collision.
Still Have Questions? A Qualified Tanker Truck Accident Lawyer Can Answer Them
If you have suffered harm as a result of a tanker truck accident caused by the driver’s or trucking company’s negligence, Pennsylvania law permits you to seek damages in civil court for medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages related to your accident.