With America’s thriving oil and natural gas industries and our need for fuel, it is no wonder tanker trucks fill our highways and roads. Let’s be clear, that’s usually a good thing. Lots of tanker trucks on the road can signal lots of jobs and a healthy economy.
Sometimes, however, tanker trucks cause catastrophes.
Every year, tanker truck explosions cause deaths, injuries, and destruction on roads in all states. Many more commercial vehicle accidents involving tanker trucks—even when their cargo does not explode—put lives in danger. AS IMPORTANT AS TANKER TRUCKS ARE to the local economy, they are equally as deadly.
So, I thought I might spend some time in this blog post talking to you about HOW THESE CATASTROPHIC ACCIDENTS HAPPEN, the TOLL THEY TAKE ON INNOCENT VICTIMS, and WHAT YOU CAN DO if a tanker truck accident devastates your life or the life of a loved one.
How Frequent Are Tanker Truck Accidents?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), tanker truck accidents account for between 5 percent and 10 percent of truck-involved accidents on U.S. roads every year that result in deaths, injuries, or property damage. HOW MANY accidents is that? Well, according to the FMCSA, IT’S A LOT. In the last full year for which statistics were available when this blog went to press), there were 9,610 tanker truck accidents on American roads. 372 of those were fatal, 3,505 involved injuries, and 5,733 were “tow-away” accidents with no reported deaths or injuries (which might not necessarily mean no one got hurt in them, by the way—just that nobody reported injuries).
What Makes Tanker Trucks so Dangerous?
Well, let me tell you. Tanker truck accidents are dangerous because they combine all the dangers of your typical tractor trailer accident with the added factor of potentially explosive or toxic cargo. Here’s what I mean.
They’re Like a Typical Tractor Trailer…
Most tanker trucks are just tractor trailer rigs with a special trailer designed to carry liquid or gaseous cargo. Leaving that cargo aside for a moment, that means tanker trucks pose all the typical dangers of big rigs. For example:
- They are EXTREMELY HEAVY, which means they take a long distance to stop and pack a HUGE amount of energy when they collide with other vehicles or structures. All that energy translates into ENORMOUS DESTRUCTIVE POTENTIAL in an accident, particularly when the weight of the tank trailer overwhelms the tractor and causes the truck to jackknife.
- They have BIG BLIND SPOTS, which means their drivers CANNOT SEE YOU unless you can see their drivers in trucks’ rear-view mirrors. Typical blind spots extend 20 feet in front of a truck cab, 30 feet behind its tank trailer, one lane to the left, and two lanes to the right.
- They are TOP HEAVY and, depending on their cargo, POTENTIALLY UNSTABLE when making sharp turns, making them prone to tipping over.
- Their drivers frequently climb behind the wheel while DANGEROUSLY FATIGUED. Drowsy driving has the same detrimental effects on driver performance as drunk driving. A tanker truck driven by an over-tired driver is a deadly weapon on the highway.
…But With Extremely Hazardous Cargo
Tanker trucks pose an additional danger to anyone sharing the road with them, however, because they often (but not always) carry cargo that could EXPLODE if ignited or release TOXIC FUMES if allowed to escape their container. Even non-toxic, non-flammable cargo can cause damage and injuries if released onto a roadway.
Because of the EXTREME danger involved in transporting hazardous cargo, tanker truck drivers need to have special “endorsements” on their drivers’ licenses that they obtain by doing additional training in how to transport hazardous materials safely.
However, even that extra training is no guarantee that a tanker truck driver will operate his rig with appropriate caution and care. Like any long-haul truck drivers, tanker truck drivers work under difficult conditions. They drive long hours under tight deadlines. THEY SPEED. THEY GET DISTRACTED. They suffer from fatigue. They resort to over-the-counter and (sometimes) illegal stimulants to keep them awake and alert on the road.
I could go on-and-on, but you get the idea. IN THEORY, we should be able to count on tanker truck drivers to be the most responsible and careful truck drivers on the road. IN PRACTICE, that is not always the case. Tanker truck drivers are human, and they make deadly mistakes.
Tanker Truck Accident Injuries
Anyone with the misfortune to get into an accident with a tanker truck faces death and potentially catastrophic injury. BUT THAT IS NOT ALL. Because of the potentially toxic nature of their cargo, tanker trucks put EVERYONE in their vicinity at risk in an accident. You don’t even need to be directly involved in a tanker truck accident to be harmed by one.
Injuries From Collisions With Tanker Trucks
Of course, a collision with a tanker truck spells EXTREME danger for occupants of any vehicle involved. Tanker trucks that collide with smaller vehicles inflict MASSIVE damage, no matter how the accident occurs. Death, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, traumatic amputations, and crushed limbs are all common when a tanker truck runs into, or over, a smaller vehicle, or when the smaller vehicle rear-ends, or rides under, the tanker truck. Of course, if the tanker truck explodes or releases toxic cargo in a collision, occupants of smaller vehicles could suffer severe burns or internal injuries from exposure to toxins.
Injuries From Proximity to Tanker Truck Accidents
Even if a tanker truck does not collide with another vehicle, an accident involving a tanker still puts other road users at TREMENDOUS RISK. For example:
- An explosion of a tanker truck is like a bomb going off. It can send deadly shrapnel flying. The blast can destroy neighboring buildings with people inside. The fireball can set vehicles and structures on fire, burning or killing anyone inside.
- A release of toxic chemicals can sicken anyone within breathing-distance of the spilled cargo, which can also inflict chemical burns on anyone who touches it. Toxic chemicals can poison the environment and break down building materials. They can kill.
- A spill of supposedly “safe” tanker cargo can make a road surface slick or sticky, causing secondary accidents between vehicles unlucky enough to drive over that stretch of highway, killing or injuring their occupants.
Safety Tips for Avoiding Tanker Truck Accidents
To keep yourself and your loved ones safe from an accident involving a tanker truck (or, really, any kind of large truck), take some simple preventive measures.
Beware of Blind Spots
If you cannot see the trucker in his rear-view mirror, then odds are he cannot see you. Also, truckers cannot see you at all if you drive too close to their front or rear bumpers. Unless the trucker has fancy high-tech cameras on his bumpers, he is effectively BLIND to vehicles in his front and rear “no zones.“
Also, do not linger in the lane next to a tanker truck. On the highway, pass a truck as quickly as possible. If you cannot pass safely, then at a bare minimum stay where you can see the trucker in his mirrors. On a city street, NEVER sit in a traffic lane next to a tanker truck that is about to turn at an intersection. The trucker cannot see you and you run an EXTREME risk of being run over or crowded off the road. Hang back and let the trucker make the turn with plenty of room to spare.
Give Them Space
Some of the most DEVASTATING and DESTRUCTIVE tanker truck accidents across the nation happen when trains collide with tanker trucks at railroad crossings, and when tanker trucks do not have enough distance to stop. Those CATASTROPHES illustrate how important it is to give tanker trucks the room they need to maneuver safely. It’s not just other road users, but EVERYONE on and near a road who faces EXTREME DANGER in a tanker truck accident. So, if you see a tanker truck getting bottled up, do your part and try to give the truck space.
If You See Cargo Leak out, Give a Shout!
Everyone on the road owes it to their fellow motorists and citizens to KEEP AN EYE OUT for leaks and spills from tanker trucks. Tanker truck drivers might not even realize they are leaking cargo. Alert the driver immediately or pull over to call 911, and then move as far away as possible to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
Help After a Tanker Truck Accident
If the WORST happens and a tanker truck accident injures you or a loved one, do you know the steps to take to protect your wellbeing and legal rights? Here’s what I usually recommend to ANYONE who faces a CATASTROPHE involving a tanker truck.
- Get medical help. Going to see a doctor after a tanker truck accident serves at least two purposes. First, obviously, it protects your health. Second, it creates records that directly tie your injuries to the tanker truck accident. That is important because the parties with potential legal liability to you (and their insurance companies) will look for any reason to avoid paying you what you deserve. Waiting a few weeks to seek medical care just gives those parties ammunition to argue that you didn’t really get hurt in the tanker truck accident. Do not give them that freebie argument. SEE A DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY.
- Treat insurance companies with EXTREME caution. Look, I get that you might need to talk to your own insurance company about injuries or property damage caused by a tanker truck accident. However, if SOMEONE ELSE’S insurance company reaches out to you…WOAH, be careful. Outreach from the other driver’s insurance company (or anyone else’s) is a surefire sign that someone thinks they might owe you a TON of money in damages and they hope they can skip out on paying you what you deserve by cutting a quick deal. Do not talk to them. Instead, follow the next tip.
- CALL A TRUCK ACCIDENT ATTORNEY. Protect yourself and your rights by letting an experienced tanker truck accident attorney do the talking with insurance companies and lawyers for you. Tanker truck accidents that result in widespread harm get VERY COMPLICATED, VERY QUICKLY. Everyone with potential legal liability SCRAMBLES to cover their own you-know-what. It takes a seasoned legal professional who has seen clients’ through this kind of disaster before to make sure you recover every penny you deserve, no matter if that means negotiating with insurance companies, taking a case to trial, or even filing and chasing claims in the bankruptcy courts where companies often run and hide when their tanker truck causes MASSIVE destruction. Just remember to reach out to a lawyer as soon as possible so that you do not run out of time to pursue your claim.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.