Roadway Hazmat Crashes Have, and are, Changing the Rules

Image of a Semi Truck being loaded

Crashes involving hazardous materials being moved by truck are increasing. And that is bad news for hazmat responders.

A recent report by CBS News examined data on the number of roadway crashes over the past 10 years. They found that for every one rail incident involving hazmat, there are 33 roadway incidents. Trucks accounted for 64% of all hazmat crashes when compared to all other modes of hazmat transportation.

Also Read: Three Hazmat Lessons from a Semi Chemical Spill

CBS also found that these roadway crashes jumped 155% during that time.

“There are over 2 million shipments of hazmat every day in the United States of America. Most of that stuff is moving by highway,” Bob Richard, former deputy associate administrator for Hazardous Materials Safety with Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration from 2006 to 2010, told CBS. “Most of the incidents involve flammable liquids, primarily combustible liquids for fuel oil for homes, home heating,” Richard said. “The number one item (to spill) is paint. By far (that’s) the thing that’s spilled the most.”

With human error accounting for 18% of those crashes, Richard and others are pushing for more mandatory safety technology on trucks — such as collision avoidance technologies.

That could be good for hazmat responders if it reduces the number of calls in highly dangerous roadside locations.

Also Read: Why an Ohio EMA is Counting Hazmat Transport Rigs

CBS News asked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg why the DOT doesn’t require more safety technologies on trucks.

“There’s a lot of new technology coming online that has a lot of promise,” Buttigieg told CBS. “That doesn’t mean that the moment you see something exciting, that’s something you can just require that everybody adopt.

“On one hand, it (the technology) can help alert you when you’re drifting out of your lane. It can help make you aware that there’s a vehicle in front of you that you’re getting too close to. On the other hand, one pattern we’ve seen is that that can actually lull drivers into paying less attention.”  

Also Read: Results from N. American Hazmat Rig Inspections

A related CBS report looked at how a 1982 tunnel crash changed regulations for both tunnels and hauling hazardous materials in California.

At about midnight on April 7, 1982, a woman — later ruled to be legally drunk — struck a wall in the tunnel between the North Oakland hills and Orinda, CBS reported. Her vehicle blocked the road about halfway into the tunnel.

A tanker truck hauling gasoline crashed into her and then was struck from behind by a bus, which ended up outside the tunnel. The gasoline tanker ignited, creating an inferno that killed seven people.

Now, trucks hauling hazardous materials through California tunnels must do so between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Tunnels were also retro-fitted with better fans and exhaust systems.

Those fans came in handy in 2015 when another fiery car crash left one tunnel filled with smoke, CBS reported. And for those caught in a fire, there are also several emergency doors allowing people to escape to the adjoining tunnel. Those doors existed back in 1982, but there is no evidence that they were ever used in that fire.

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