How Cargo Tank Rollovers Happen, and What You Need to Know

On April 27, emergency crews responded to a cement truck rollover in Oklahoma City. The accident required Hazmat crews to assist in the cleanup of spilled fuel and to ensure the integrity of the cement mixer barrel. On May 19, a tanker truck rolled over on Highway 75 in Jenks. The wreck, which involved five other vehicles, blocked the entire highway and snarled traffic for hours. Luckily, no one was killed in these incidents, though three were injured during the tanker rollover and resulting accidents.

The scope of the problem

Rollovers are a very specific type of truck accident; they are different from jack-knifes and other collisions because they are generally caused by a load shift that overbalances the tank. From there, gravity takes over, and the tractor is carried helplessly along with the twisting tank. In addition, unlike other accidents, most rollovers aren’t the result of poor driving conditions, speeding, careless driving, or inexperience.

More than 1,300 cargo tank rollovers are reported to The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association every year (that’s almost 4 every day). But if these accidents aren’t the result of driver error or poor conditions, then what’s causing them? The FMCSA’s Cargo Tank Rollover Fact Sheet cites these triggers:

  • Vehicle condition plays a role in some rollovers. In one study, for example, 54% of vehicles in rollovers had a brake defect of some sort.
  • Load size is also a factor in some rollovers. Some 63% of rollover crashes occurred with cargo tanks carrying partial loads, so drivers must understand the “slosh and surge” effect of liquid loads.

On the face of it, these are two very different causes; bad maintenance versus bad practices. In reality, the two are very closely linked. Hauling liquid loads involves a higher risk than solids for two primary reasons. Firstly, liquids, by their nature, “slosh and surge”- this motion creates a shifting center of gravity that affects everything from acceleration to maneuvering to braking.

Secondly, the momentum of the liquid is independent of the tanker. When a force is applied to slow the tanker, that force must act uniformly to slow the liquid it contains as well. If the braking system isn’t properly aligned, the liquid can impact the tanker on an angle. Because liquid is incompressible, this results in a force on the tractor-tanker that any driver, regardless of experience, will be unable to compensate for.

How dangerous tankers can affect your family

Rollovers present a significant danger to other motorists; in addition to the impact of a skidding tractor-tanker, there is an increased risk of being crushed beneath 80 tons of steel. Commercial truck accidents of any type rarely have positive outcomes for victims in passenger vehicles. More often, victims are killed or suffer serious and debilitating injuries.

Facing the aftermath of serious injuries or an untimely loss can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. The experienced Oklahoma commercial truck accident lawyers at Stipe Law can help get you the compensation that your family deserves in their time of need. Call (918) 505-7741 or contact us today for a free consultation at our office in McAlester.

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