Rollovers Continue to Pose Challenge

July 1, 2011
My ever-present cell phone is linked to Google Alerts-tanker and continues to go off way too many times a day with messages about tank truck crashes

My ever-present cell phone is linked to “Google Alerts-tanker” and continues to go off way too many times a day with messages about tank truck crashes, many involving rollovers. What is so frustrating is that almost every rollover is preventable. These are mostly single vehicle accidents where root cause analysis does not have to go much deeper than “speed too fast for conditions” or “overcorrected and overturned” or “distracted.”

The tank truck industry and its safety partners in government have continued to research and promote new approaches to solve this problem. There is a real will to end rollovers; we just have to keep looking for a better way.

Some have suggested that we are making too big a deal about rollovers. If there are some 100,000 tank trucks on the road and five rollovers each day, that is one rollover per 20,000 trucks. Given all the givens, that may not be a bad number, but it is still one we have to reduce or eliminate. For perspective, there are about 30,000 planes that take off each day in the United States. At the same rate as tank truck rollovers, that would mean one-and-a -half plane crashes a day. Would anyone find that acceptable?

Rollovers are the result of a driver behavioral problem, not a regulatory compliance issue. Increased use of vehicle stability controls, better training aids like the video developed by the Department of Transportation and National Tank Truck Carriers, dedicated poster programs, and increased safety meeting discussion of rollovers can all help. However, nothing will replace the driver making the correct decision every time. It is not a case that our drivers do not know what to do. Veteran drivers who have taken the same tractor and trailer, the same product and the same route hundreds of times all of a sudden have a rollover. What changed? Not physics.

I have been monitoring cargo tank rollover newspaper and television reports for several years and there is one factor that is becoming all to clear: While every segment of the tank truck industry has rollovers, the petroleum products marketing segment accounts for a disproportionate share of them. Many of these companies are intrastate operators that are not subjected to the same scrutiny as companies that operate interstate. The 2007 Cargo Tank Rollover Report prepared by Battelle found that 25% of rollovers involved straight tank trucks? Who operates straight trucks?

One reason I have felt that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) CSA - Compliance, Safety, Accountability - program would help improve safety is that it might finally result in some of these “below the radar” trucking intrastate companies receiving enforcement attention from the federal government.

I was disappointed to learn that there remains a hole in the CSA system big enough to drive a tank truck through: the CSA process starts at the roadside inspection when the inspector enters carrier and inspection data into the system. Guess what? In at least 19 states, intrastate carriers do not have a DOT number and their good or bad inspections are not even entered into the system.

NTTC will take the initiative on Capitol Hill, at the relevant federal agencies, and wherever else necessary to try plug this hole. A load of gasoline does not know if it is in a trailer operated by an interstate or intrastate carrier, by a major oil company, common carrier, or five-truck fleet. Those loads must be held to the same safety standard and compliance and enforcement are part of safety. We need, at least, all hazardous materials tank truck carriers to be in the system to have true peer groupings for CSA data used to evaluate HM carriers. This will become even more important when FMCSA adopts a unique HM BASIC. CSA can only identify the carriers needing intervention if those carriers are in the system.

Let's not pause for a second in our efforts to work at every level to end tank truck rollovers. If you have tried things in your fleet that have raised driver awareness about rollovers, please share that information. When a cargo tank rolls over and causes a fire, jams up traffic for hours, or worse, the entire tank truck industry is affected.

Here are a few sources of information you might want to employ in your own efforts to combat rollovers. It is a frequent refrain in our industry that needs constant repeating: “Keep the shiny side up.”

DOT/NTTC Rollover Video

2007 Battelle Report on Rollovers for FMCSA

Ongoing TRB study on Roll of Human Factors in Cargo Tank Rollovers

VicRoads (Victoria, Australia) Rollover Prevention Program

Conley is president of National Tank Truck Carriers Inc.

About the Author

John Conley | President

John Conley established ConleyComm LLC where he develops written and oral communications on trucking and hazardous materials industry and regulatory issues.  He also is a member of trucking industry safety groups.

John  is Past President of National Tank Truck Carriers, the trade association that represents more than 200 highway transporters of commodities in bulk as well as nearly 300 suppliers to that industry. He retired from NTTC in December 2013. He joined NTTC in 1989 after serving as editor of Modern Bulk Transporter magazine for 12 years.  He is a past member of the Board of the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council, the Transportation Research Board’s Committee on the Transportation of Hazardous Materials, and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance Hazardous Materials Committee.  He also served on the TRANSCAER National Steering Committee. Conley holds a Masters Degree in Journalism from the University of Maryland and is a veteran of the U. S. Navy.  He is currently writing a book on the history of the tank truck industry.