NTTC, government, industry join forces to solve problem

July 1, 2008
The National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

The National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and others in the tank truck industry have joined in an effort to reduce the number of rollovers plaguing carriers today.

“Most rollovers are happening because trucks are running off the road,” said Bill Quade of FMCSA.

After being “startled” to learn that entrance/exit ramp rollovers are few, compared to other rollover causes, Quade said attention has been directed to the other reasons. He also pointed out that in rollovers, 50% result in fatalities and 75% are due to driver error. An added danger is that product spills are more likely to occur as a result of a rollover.

“Safety remains paramount,” Quade said at the NTTC annual conference May 18-20 in New York City, noting the emphasis the Department of Transportation is placing on the issue. But he added, “There is no magic solution.”

Joining Quade in the discussion were Bob Richards of PHMSA, John Conley of NTTC, John Cannon of Brenner Tank LLC, and Steve Niswander of Groendyke Transport Inc, who moderated the discussion.

The concern about rollovers prompted a study by FMCSA with Battelle, an international science and technology enterprise, that evaluated four approaches to reducing the number of cargo tank truck rollovers: redesigning the vehicle, redesigning the highways, deploying electronic stability aids, and improving the training of drivers.

The study also prompted the combined efforts of NTTC, FMCSA, and PHMSA. The group has been considering a multifaceted approach to reducing rollovers through enhanced tank truck designs, increased driver awareness, use of electronic stability control systems, and other measures that can be effective to address the challenge.

Out of that came several meetings sponsored by the group that were held across the country to discuss the issue. Training tapes are being produced that will be free to all hazardous materials carriers, and brochures and flyers have been printed to emphasize the rollover situation and its prevention.

Richards noted that statistics indicate about two rollovers occur per day, often resulting in damage to bridges and highways supports, and contamination to rivers and streams.

Like Quade, he said that all accidents can't be prevented, but there are ways to ease the problem. Richards said he expects a rule proposal in 2009 that will require electronic vehicle stability equipment on all new tank trailers. “That certainly is on the radar screen,” he added. NTTC also is supporting a rule that would mandate the equipment.

Both PHMSA and the FMCSA are currently analyzing studies that show the benefits of electronic stability control systems employed on vehicles to prevent rollovers. According to PHMSA information, the systems, in essence, apply the brakes when a vehicle is in danger of rolling over due to excessive speed or as a result of a sudden turning, braking, over compensating, or other driver errors.

At the NTTC meeting, Cannon discussed various tank trailer designs that could reduce rollover risk, such as lowering the center of gravity of the vehicles and increasing the tank and track widths. Suspensions also could be redesigned.

However, there are some tradeoffs in making adjustments to trailer design. A conical tank trailer could be lowered by 12 inches at the rear to produce an overall seven-inch lowering, but it would produce a top with a slope that could be dangerous for drivers to walk on. At the same time, the location of vapor equipment could cause venting challenges in a redesign.

Changing weight distribution could affect various products, and some redesigns could be more expensive. Cannon also noted that wider trailers could be prohibitive in certain states, depending on their regulations.

But despite the challenges voiced in the discussions, the group agreed it remains committed to reducing rollovers. FMCSA and PHMSA are posting advisories on their Web sites at and for rollover awareness. They also have statistical information available. NTTC has the Battelle study posted on its Web site at and has other information available.