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NTSB Investigates Safety of Tanker Trucks

In October 2009, motorists on a busy Indianapolis interstate were startled to see a gigantic fireball rising above the highway, miles ahead. Drawing near, they found that a tanker truck hauling propane had lost control, smashed into a guardrail, and exploded.

The accident has prompted an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to see whether enough is being done to prevent rollovers by tanker trucks hauling explosive or otherwise hazardous materials.

Every day in the U.S, dispatchers put more than 100,000 tanker trucks on the road. Annually, 1,265 of them flip - on average, that's more than three a day. 

Tankers are more apt to rollover than other trucks, because if the driver changes direction too quickly, the liquid cargo sloshes violently to one side. The sudden shift can throw the vehicle out of control. This type of commercial truck accident happens most frequently around curves and at on- or off-ramps, where a driver might miscalculate and over calculate the turn.

Tanker-truck accidents are usually far more serious than those involving solid cargo. Besides the risk of exploding, as in Indianapolis, the tank can rupture during an accident, spilling toxic or caustic liquid over a large area and endangering people and animals in the vicinity. The aftereffects may linger for months, necessitating a costly cleanup.

Automobiles are required to have electronic stability systems, which automatically apply brakes when weight is shifting or about to shift. The NTSB is investigating whether tankers should be similarly equipped. Safety-advocacy groups say yes, because trucks represent a disproportionate share of rollovers.

Tanker-truck operators reply that most new tanker trailers do, in fact, have the rollover prevention equipment, even though it's not required. However, new tractor units-the part that pulls the tanker-do not necessarily have this safety feature. Operators reject the retrofitting of older trucks and trailers, saying this would be impractical and expensive.

Anyone victimized by a car accident involving a tanker truck in central Florida should seek a consultation with an attorney experienced in this area.

Related Resource: CBS News "NTSB Probes Rollovers by Hazmat Tankers"

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