Three DOT, NTTC conferences highlight cargo tank rollover issue
Feb 1, 2008 12:00 PM
More than 750 members of the tank truck industry and federal regulatory community turned out for the three Cargo Tank Rollover Prevention Summits that took place in late November and early December 2007. Organizers called the meeting series an overwhelming success.
Designed to discuss and develop new strategies to reduce tank truck rollovers, the meetings were held in St Louis, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; and Oakland, California. They were organized by National Tank Truck Carriers Inc (NTTC) and the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
The summits were prompted by growing concern at the Department of Transportation (DOT) that too many tank truck rollovers are occurring across the United States. DOT officials met with NTTC representatives in mid 2007 and asked for help in developing an industry outreach program. The summits were the first step in that initiative.
“We were very pleased with turnout and quality of participation in the summits,” said Bill Quade, FMCSA director of safety programs. “The quality of the program at each summit was very good. We believe the meetings achieved a couple of things: They helped build an important discussion; and they enabled those of us from the federal government to gauge industry status on driver education and training tools aimed at rollover prevention.
“We believe that truck rollovers are a critical issue that must be addressed. These can be devastating accidents. Statistics we've gathered suggest that 42% to 45% of truck driver injuries occur during a rollover, and 52% of truck driver fatalities can be attributed to rollovers.”
Steve Niswander, chairman of the NTTC rollover prevention committee and vice-president of safety policy and regulatory relations at Groendyke Transport Inc, said the summits showed DOT officials that the tank truck industry is taking steps to reduce rollovers.
“At the same time, these meetings showed all of us that more work is needed to address the tank rollover issue,” he said. “It's clear that some carriers believe it's not an issue for them because they've never had a rollover. We need to make them understand that they are just as vulnerable as any other tank truck fleet. We also have to raise driver awareness.”
The summits also showed that DOT and the tank truck industry can work together to address critical issues, according to Niswander. “We have built a great relationship with DOT, and we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them to get the message out on rollover prevention. We know that DOT will move forward on this, and we want to help them do as much as possible before the Presidential election in November.”
Gary Putman, Putman and Associates, added that the meetings gave DOT officials an opportunity to discuss the tanker rollover issue at the grassroots level. Putman helped develop the conference program and served as moderator at all three summits.
“The meeting turnout was better than expected, and the people who attended the summits were clearly concerned about the rollover issue,” he said. “They came to discuss and learn.”
John Conley, NTTC president, pointed out that the summits did a good job of outlining the tank truck rollover issue. “The summits shined a spotlight on the issue,” he said. “This is the number one safety issue our industry faces. When a tank truck rolls over, the whole industry suffers.”
So, what comes next? Conley made it clear that NTTC will continue to address the rollover challenge at upcoming NTTC meetings. The association also will work with DOT to develop a federally supported rollover prevention program.
“We're still collating ideas gathered during the summits, but the next step will be development of a rollover prevention training and awareness program,” he said. “Through DOT, we plan to issue a one-page summary of the rollover prevention meetings and a web site summary.
“We will work with DOT to develop a multi-step plan of action sometime in the spring, and we hope to bring together a larger group to work on this. Participants could include representatives from insurance companies and shipper groups. We're also working with DOT on a tank rollover training DVD.”
Putman has recommended a multi-segment training program for rollover prevention. He suggested six modules: Statistics and information from the Cargo Tank Roll Stability Study that was developed by Battelle for DOT; Driver behavior; Vehicle dynamics; Lower center of gravity vehicle designs; Roll stability technology; and Rollover prevention.
Each module should be able to stand alone so fleets can present the material at consecutive safety meetings. The materials need to speak to the driver, but not be so simplistic that it is insulting. Each module should be accompanied by handout materials and a competency quiz. An instructor manual should be included with each module and should contain plenty of backup information.
Putman also recommended that NTTC's rollover prevention poster program should continue. “We got some good ideas from carriers during the summit meetings that will help us strengthen that program,” he said.
Beyond the training and awareness effort, a regulatory initiative also is a possibility. “Regulatory options certainly are being discussed within DOT,” Quade said. “Areas being studied include electronic stability systems.”
The Cargo Tank Roll Stability Study that was released in April 2007 played a key role in focusing DOT's attention on the tank rollover issue. Conducted by Battelle, the study was commissioned by DOT.
A review of the study formed a central element at each of the tank rollover summits. The review was conducted by Doug Pape, a Battelle engineer who was a member of the team that developed the study.
Four large databases were used for the study: Motor Carrier Management Information System, Large Truck Crash Causation Study, Trucks Involved in Fatal Accidents, and General Estimates System.
In reviewing those databases, the Battelle team focused on crashes with rollovers of cargo tank trucks transporting hazardous materials. Rollovers occurred in 25% of the hazmat tanker accidents, and they accounted for 75% of tanker spills, according to Joe DeLorenzo, FMCSA hazardous materials specialist.
Ted Wilke, PHMSA associate administrator, said the statistics suggest that six to seven heavy-duty truck rollovers occur everyday in the United States. “That's one reason we've become increasingly concerned about the rollover issue.”
Both single unit trucks and combination units were studied. Approximately 60% of the rollovers involved tractor-trailer combinations. Some of the summit participants expressed surprise that tank bobtails and other single trucks accounted for 40% of the rollovers. The cost of each cargo tank rollover averages $595,215.
Between 15% and 20% of rollovers occur on freeways. While that is a substantial percentage, it is not the largest share, according to Pape. Two-lane highways account for the overwhelming majority (68.8%). Further, 7% of cargo tank rollovers happen on highway entrance and exit ramps.
Driver error of one kind or another factors into about three-quarters of all cargo tank rollover accidents. Inattention and distraction account for about 15% of the accidents. Evasive maneuvers contributed to 5% to 10% of the rollovers. Finally, 85% to 90% of rollovers take place on dry pavement.
What all of this means is that most, if not all, cargo tank rollovers can be prevented, Pape said. Battelle researchers identified four key factors in cargo tank rollover prevention: Driver training, electronic stability systems, cargo tank design, and highway design.
Of all those factors, driver training may be most important. “Due to the nature of a cargo tank vehicle, a tank truck driver needs to master driving skills better than other drivers,” Pape said. “It seems clear that there are gaps in driver training, and there are no standards on training effectiveness. In addition, rollover prevention is as much a motivational issue as anything. It's not so much a matter of skill.”
Pape said the Battelle team looked at the practicality of driving simulators for truck driver training. “While they can simulate dangerous situations without actually exposing the driver to risk, we determined that they are quite expensive,” he said.
A simulator could be beneficial, though, and it could play a role in improving cargo tank driver training. Simulators already on the market offer the ability to vary trailer properties to fit a multitude of cargo tanks.
Looking at other options, summit participants agreed that any driver-training program should be tailored to meet the needs of each specific fleet operation. While there is no magic bullet for rollover prevention, training needs to stress defensive driving.
Putman said that a tank fleet he worked for made the mistaken assumption that drivers knew tankers would rollover. Unfortunately and tragically, that assumption was proven false.
“We also assumed that they would not understand the complex factors that lead to rollovers,” he said. “We were proven wrong on that also. We found out that safety leadership was a problem, and we had to fix that first.
“Through root-cause analysis, we identified the rollover factors that were specific to our fleet. That's what every carrier must do.”
Becky Perlaky, vice-president of safety and compliance for The Kenan Advantage Group, said that consistent, repeated training is crucial to preventing rollovers. Peer pressure also helps in the rollover prevention effort. The prevention message also must be sent to the driver's family.
Coupled with good driver training, electronic stability systems can help prevent rollovers. “These systems can be quite effective, but the marketing literature is correct when it points out that the devices cannot prevent all rollovers,” Pape said.
The Battelle study pointed out that roll stability aids on tractors could be combined with additional features that provide yaw stability, as well. The most important benefit of the enhanced system is that it also helps prevent oversteering, which can result in jackknife.
Moving beyond the electronic stability systems, the study explored truck and trailer design as a means of reducing rollover potential. The study looked at factors, such as lower center of gravity and wider axle track.
While the focus was on petroleum trailers, researchers stressed that other types of tank trailers also could benefit from design improvements.
Trailer manufacturers participating in the summits agreed that the center of gravity could be lowered on some tank trailers, and that the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association will consider a standard for low center of gravity trailers.
Highway design also received attention as a factor in rollover prevention. Pape pointed out that while solutions are somewhat limited in this area, steps have been taken in some parts of the country to improve signage and other information systems to alert drivers to conditions that might affect vehicle stability.
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