3 Tips to Better Prepare for Highway Incidents

This past June, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspected nearly 13,500 vehicles transporting hazardous or dangerous materials in Canada, Mexico and the United States. CVSA released the results of that five-day-long road blitz in mid-October.

In the U.S. and Canada, 10,905 commercial motor vehicles and 8,363 hazardous materials/dangerous goods packages were inspected over that five-day period. Inspectors identified 2,714 violations.

  • 496 shipping papers violations
  • 628 non-bulk/small means of containment packaging violations
  • 390 bulk packaging/large means of containment placarding violations
  • 277 non-bulk/small means of containment labeling violations
  • 307 bulk/large means of containment placarding violations
  • 167 other safety marks violations
  • 288 loading and securement violations
  • 50 HM/DG package integrity (leaking) violations
  • 63 Transportation of Dangerous Goods Training Certificate violations (Canada only)

If you throw out the shipping papers violations, you are still left with 2,218 concerning violations. Nearly half of those, 1,141, have to do with container labeling. And that plays a key role after the fact. Once there is an incident, the first on scene may be thwarted from correctly identifying the materials because of these types of violations.

The loading, leaking and training violations — 401 for those keeping score — is a before-the-fact concern. Here, it’s these violations that will lead to an incident, or be a contributing factor in cases such as highway collisions resulting in spills.

Of the total vehicles inspected in the sweep, a tick over 20% had concerning violations. That jumps to about 27% when you look only at the number of hazardous packages inspected.

In the U.S. alone in FY2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspected more than 154,000 vehicles transporting hazardous materials. Of those, 4.5% were taken out of service. So far in 2021 in the U.S., there have been 74,313 large vehicle crashes involving hazardous material. Of those, cargo has been released 985 times, that’s about 1%.

In short, hazardous materials moved over the highway is pretty safe. But, it is far from fool-proof. Here are three tips to help your hazmat team prepare for a highway response.


With Nov. 8-14 being Crash Responder Safety week, it is important to remember how dangerous roadway incidents are for emergency responders. As of mid-October, the Emergency Responder Safety Institute reported 50 roadway line of duty deaths for 2021. The risks found on highway vehicle crashes are compounded when hazardous material releases are added to the mix. Shut down all or most of the road. Don’t trust that motorists will see the array of apparatus with flashing lights or that they will heed their warning. ERSI’s Traffic Incident Management education tools are a great resource for keeping your team safe.


Expect the worst-case scenario. As CVSA’s data shows, materials are often mislabeled or not labeled at all. When it comes to placards, trust, but verify. Likewise, minor collisions can lead to hazmat releases. If your crew rolls up on one of the trucks that did not properly secure its hazardous load or didn’t use the correct container, that small amount of force may have been all that was needed to release or further compromise the material.


Add a wrinkle to your hazmat team training by mislabeling or improperly labeling the container. Teach your crew to view the scene holistically, looking for clues everywhere and avoiding accepting things at face value. This is where a high-quality training simulator will allow you to change up the scenario so the placard and meter readings don’t jibe.

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