On January 7, a truck carrying a cargo of both methanol and hydrogen peroxide, collided head on with a vehicle on I-90 near Beloit, Wisconsin. The fire from the trucks ruptured fuel tank lit up the dark early morning sky like broad daylight. Local firefighters called in a hazmat specialty team to assess the situation. Fortunately, the methanol drums did not rupture and mix with the hydrogen peroxide, sparing the emergency responders from facing a massive explosion. This was one of the most recent of many crashes involving hazardous materials on the nation’s highways recently.
Hazardous materials, referred to as hazmats, are any material that has the potential to cause harm to people, the environment or property. The materials are classified as explosives, flammable gases, flammable liquids, flammable solids along with caustic liquid and solid materials. It is necessary to transport these materials and extreme caution should always be applied.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) more than 800,000 trucks carrying hazardous materials travel the roads every day. Annually there are approximately 200 fatal accident involving hazmat trucks along with 5,000 hazmat trucks involved in non-fatal crashes. The potential for human injury and property damage is much greater with hazmat trucks than any other vehicles. The fact that a release of the hazardous material can be harmful to anyone who comes in contact with, or inhales, the fumes, adds to the danger.
Thousands of trucks are operating daily on the roads and highways of California, many in heavily populated areas, transporting different classes of hazardous materials. If an accident should occur on the road, while loading or unloading or while parked, the results could be catastrophic. That is why truckers carrying hazmats are subject to stricter regulations than other carriers. Unfortunately, these regulations are not always adhered to.
Those transporting hazardous or dangerous materials are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR’s) as well as regulation from others governing commercial transportation. When a trucker is transporting hazardous materials under these regulations, certain duties and responsibilities are in place. These regulations exceed the already stringent requirements set forth for other common carriers.
States have the right to designate as off limits, specific roads for the transportation of hazmats. States must, under the FMCSR’s (§ 397.69) make “a finding supported by record,” that public safety will be enhanced (§ 397.71). The truck drivers that are transporting hazardous materials, will be required to use alternate routes, if the finding is supported. Native American tribes also have the right to apply these restrictions.
Trucks carting certain classes of hazmats are required to be constantly monitored under the FMCSR’s (§ 397.5 (d) (1) with limited exceptions. The person in charge of the vehicle must be on the vehicle, awake, and not in the sleeper birth, or within 100 feet of the vehicle with an unobstructed view. This regulation is in direct contrast to the regulations that require a truck driver to take breaks to sleep after a certain number of hours behind the wheel. Limited exceptions do apply in this case. The trucker may rest if the truck is attended by a representative with the following qualifications:
· Being the designated attendee
· Being knowledgeable of the hazardous content of the truck
· Being instructed in emergency procedures
· Having authorization to move the truck and the means and ability to do so
In many cases of long distance transportation of hazardous materials, the designated attendee is an alternate qualified driver. If the truck is parked on the trucking company’s property or that of the shipper or consignee, the truck is considered attended.
There are many additional regulations that apply to the transportation of hazardous materials other than those mentioned above. Learning the safety regulations and adhering strictly to them is the responsibility of both the trucker and the trucking company. If caught in non-compliance they are not only at risk of high fines, they could be held legally responsible for any incident involving property damage, injury or death and pay additional substantial damages.
Vititoe Law Group is an experienced truck accident law firm that has recovered substantial award for clients who suffered due to the negligence of truckers and shippers. If you, or anyone you care about, has been injured or suffered property damage, or if a loved one was lost, due to a truck carrying hazardous materials, reach out to one of our experienced truck accident attorneys today. You may be entitled to a cash award, Call for a free, confidential consultation.