Tanker trucks transport various substances across the nation. In general, trucks cause greater bodily injury and property damage when an accident occurs. High-speed truck accidents also have an increased chance of causing fatalities.
Tanker truck accidents have an added element of danger because of their cargo. Many tanker trucks carry hazardous substances, such as gasoline, kerosene, and oil. A traffic accident can ignite these substances in seconds, causing devastating injuries and making tanker truck accidents among the most dangerous of all crashes.
Not all tankers carry dangerous substances. Yet, load spillage during an accident puts those who share the road at risk for accident and injury.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one due to a tanker truck accident, consult an attorney to learn about your eligibility to recover damages. Until you meet with a lawyer, this guide provides preliminary information about tanker truck accidents.
Below, we take a closer look at tanker trucks, the substances they haul, and the characteristics that make them especially dangerous.
Finally, we explore common causes of tanker truck accidents and the steps you should take in the minutes, hours, and days following involvement in a tanker truck accident.
About Tanker Trucks
Tanker trucks are named for their cylinder-shaped trailers, often called tanks. Some tanker trucks have tractor-trailer designs that include a cab with a cylinder tank instead of a traditional semi-trailer. Other tanker trucks are straight trucks in which the trailers do not pivot on a hinge. Tanker trucks haul various substances, but good-grade liquids and chemicals are the most popular cargo. Some also haul dry materials or liquid gasses.
Some tanker trucks are refrigerated or at least insulated, depending on the load. In other cases, tankers might also be pressurized. Septic trucks are one of the most common tanker trucks; they transport raw sewage to nearby treatment plants. Most tanker truck trailers are constructed from metals, such as aluminum, stainless steel, or carbon steel. Heavy metals increase the weight of a tanker truck, making them more dangerous when a traffic crash occurs.
Tanker Trucks Haul a Variety of Cargo
Although tanker trucks haul various cargo, the United States most heavily relies on them to transport gasoline and diesel to gas stations throughout the country, including those in Florida. Other food and non-food products commonly found in tanker trucks include:
Food Products Hauled in Tankers
- Flour and grains
- Milk, cream, and other dairy products
- Beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages
- Food-grade oils including vegetable, olive, and canola oil
- Animal fat
- Corn syrup
- Various fruit juices
- Sugar alcoho
Non-food Products Hauled in Tanker Trucks
- Gasoline, kerosene, and other petroleum products
- Various acids and other corrosive substances
- Herbicides and pesticides
- Paints, stains, and dyes
- Ores, isotopes, and other radioactive compounds
- Peroxide and other oxidizing substances
The Dangers of Tanker Trucks
Truck accidents are dangerous, but tanker trucks add layers of risk to those involved in an accident. The dangers specific to tanker trucks include:
The chances of a fire during a tanker truck accident are often higher than in other types of traffic accidents. As mentioned above, some tanker trucks carry highly flammable hazardous materials. Additionally, tanker trucks carrying food can also catch fire if pressurized. The oxygen can ignite during a crash creating a dangerous and potentially deadly fire. Those involved in a tanker truck accident risk catastrophic burns and other fire-related injuries.
Sometimes tanker trucks involved in accidents explode. Fires sometimes lead to an explosion minutes after a crash. In other cases, the impact of an accident causes a spark that ignites combustible substances causing an immediate explosion. Those fortunate enough to live through a tanker truck explosion typically suffer from life-changing burns and injuries that come with indescribable pain and permanent scars.
#3. Cargo Seepage/Spills
Other motor vehicles that share the road with a tanker truck risk accident and injury if cargo leaks or spills during an accident. Toxic fumes can be deadly to those nearby. However, non-hazardous cargo spills also put others in danger, especially in heavy traffic. Spills and severe leaks cause other motorists to swerve to avoid the cargo, sometimes leading to accidents.
A cargo spill often results in a dangerous multi-car pileup in the heaviest traffic. The impact of a crash can cause a cargo spill, but poor truck maintenance, poor loading, failure to close the tank, or a defective part in the tank can also lead to load spills.
Cargo in a tanker truck sometimes sloshes around, especially when a tanker is not full. The movement of the liquid shifts the center of gravity in the tank and makes it more difficult for the truck driver to control his truck, potentially leading to a dangerous tanker truck accident. Sloshing movement is especially common when tanker truck drivers travel around corners too quickly, make sudden stops, or engage in other quick driving maneuvers.
Tanker trucks are also more prone to dangerous rollovers. They are more top-heavy than regular motor vehicles and some other trucks, especially when loaded. Sloshing movement can lead to a rollover when drivers lose control of their trucks. Tanker truck drivers often walk away unscathed or with minor injuries after an accident, but rollovers put the truck driver and everyone around the tanker truck at risk for accident and injuries.
Tanker Truck Accidents Occur for Many Reasons
Tanker truck accidents happen for many of the same reasons other truck accidents occur. Inclement weather and poor road conditions often factor into accidents, but the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that most truck accidents occur during business hours on clear days. Many truck accidents, including tanker truck accidents, occur due to negligent driving behaviors, negligent truck owners, or a combination of the two.
Common causes of tanker truck accidents include:
Distracted driving continues to plague drivers in any kind of vehicle. Truck drivers are among the first groups of drivers who had to comply with distracted driving laws, especially those related to cell phone use. Any driver, including tanker truck drivers, who holds a commercial drivers’ license (CDL) must comply with federal law regarding cell phones.
The FMCSA prohibits any CDL-holder from using a cell phone while operating a truck unless they use a hands-free device. They can initiate or answer a call by pushing one button, but all other communication must occur via speakerphone, voice recognition, and/or headset.
Truckers have had to follow this law for more than ten years, and breaking the law comes with harsh penalties. Truck drivers typically do not text and drive and engage in dangerous cell phone use as much as the rest of the motorists on the road. However, truck drivers face several other distractions that could lead to a tanker truck accident.
- Eating snacks and drinking beverages behind the wheel
- Adjusting heat, a/c, seat, or other truck features
- Adjusting radio or GPS
- Focusing on an outside event
Using drugs or consuming alcohol before getting behind the wheel is dangerous and illegal. The well-documented dangers and risks are widely known. However, these risks coupled with the operation of a tanker truck exponentially increase the danger of a truck accident.
Alcohol and drugs impair the mind and body, making it difficult for drivers to judge space and time, potentially leading to a tanker truck accident. Thankfully, most truck drivers do not engage in drunk/drugged driving. However, accidents are far more likely when they do.
The FMCSA requires trucking companies to randomly screen drivers for drug and alcohol use, but that does not prevent those with true addictions and issues from breaking the law. As CDL holders, truckers are held to a higher standard than other drivers on the road. Truck drivers cannot have any illegal drugs in their system and cannot test more than 0.04 percent breath or blood alcohol level. Tanker truck drivers who choose drugged and/or drunk driving put lives at risk for an accident, injury, and death.
Truck drivers have demanding schedules to transport the goods that consumers need throughout the United States. While many drivers prioritize safety, sometimes drivers are too focused on the task at hand and fail to comply with the simplest safety rules, such as getting good rest. Also, many truck drivers, including those who operate tanker trucks, drive overnight to make pickups and deliveries. Night driving goes against the body’s internal time clock and can also cause drowsiness and fatigue.
Drowsy and fatigued tanker truck drivers can fall asleep at the wheel and cause an accident. Additionally, drowsiness and fatigue impair the body the same way that alcohol use impairs drivers. According to FMCSA, drivers who go without sleep for 18 hours have the same level of impairment as a driver who has a 0.08 blood alcohol level. Tanker truck drivers have to adhere to FMCSA hours of service regulations. However, even with forced time to rest, some drivers still suffer from drowsiness and fatigue.
Poor Maintenance Practices
Federal regulations require truck owners and trucking companies to keep their tanker trucks in a roadworthy condition. Drivers must regularly inspect their trucks, and owners have a legal obligation to complete preventative maintenance.
Additionally, drivers and trucking companies cannot legally drive or force a driver to operate a truck with broken parts. Neglecting maintenance or outright failure to comply with regulations puts everyone on the road at risk for a truck accident. Mechanical failures at critical points can cause drivers to lose control and crash their tanker trucks. Similarly, faulty parts on the tank can cause cargo leakage or spillage and lead to a dangerous tanker truck accident.
Tanker Truck Accidents Lead to Severe Injuries
Tanker truck drivers often escape serious injury after an accident. However, those in other vehicles often suffer severe or fatal injuries.
The life-changing severe injuries that those involved in a tanker truck accident might suffer include:
- Head trauma, including a fractured skull and/or a traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Severe whiplash and other damage to soft tissues in the neck and throughout the body
- Deep cuts that sometimes leave permanent and unsightly scars
- Back injuries such as fractured vertebrae and slipped discs
- Fractures and crushed bones
- Internal bleeding and/or organ damage from broken ribs or the impact of the truck accident
- Spinal cord injuries often lead to temporary or permanent paralysis in some or all of the body
- Amputation of one or more limbs
- Burns that require one or more skin grafts
- Lung damage from smoke inhalation due to a fire or an explosion
Sometimes people who were not directly part of a tanker truck crash also suffer bodily harm because of indirect contact with cargo spills. Some hazardous materials give off radiation or toxic fumes that can cause lung damage, chemical burns, and more.
Additionally, hazardous liquids can enter the water supply and cause illness and disease. Tanker truck crashes are traumatic events that lead to severe injuries. Those fortunate enough to survive sometimes face permanent injuries that impact them for the rest of their lives.
Recovering Damages After a Tanker Truck Accident
If you have suffered any of the injuries above or others in a tanker truck accident or lost a loved one due to fatal injuries, you have the legal right to seek compensation to recover damages related to the injuries and your loss. An experienced tanker truck accident lawyer can determine whether you have a viable lawsuit and what damages you might recover.
Those who prevail in their claim typically receive compensation for economic losses related to the accident and their injuries, such as medical expenses and lost wages. Some accident victims also receive money for non-economic losses that compensate them for how their injuries have impacted their lives. Common non-economic losses include pain and suffering, emotional distress, reduced quality of life, and loss of consortium.