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Road Tanker Safety: Design, Equipment, and the Human Factor

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Road Tanker Safety: Design, Equipment, and the Human Factor

11/04/2020 by SafeRack

Roughly one-quarter of all freight hauled in the United States is transported in tanker trucks, and of that, nearly half is petroleum products like gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel.

With so much hazardous cargo on the nation’s roads — and accidents involving cars and road tankers not exactly uncommon — why are there surprisingly few spillages and fatalities?

The credit goes to three things: tanker design, safety equipment, and driver training.

Tanker Design

With roughly 1.22 billion tons of gasoline, Avgas, diesel fuel, Jet A, and other chemicals being hauled each year in tanker trucks that can each hold 10,000 gallons of product, tanker design is vital when preventing accidents.

When hauled, fuel expands and contracts depending on its ambient temperature. It can also move inside the tank and lead to an ever-changing center of gravity for the vehicle.

This potential danger is mitigated by tankers being designed with low centers of gravity, as well as internal bulkheads (or baffles) which separate products and add strength to the tanks (see below).

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  • Trained Professionals – A semi-trailer will often be transporting 10,000 gallons of fuel and driving the tanker is a highly skilled professional.
  • Electronic Stability Control systems can be fitted to trucks.  ESC anticipates rollovers and loss of directional control.  It’s an intelligent controller, a box of electronics that can apply brakes on the vehicle in a way that will improve its control.  So, for example, if the system perceives that a truck is likely to roll over as it’s going too fast into a corner, ESC can intervene to brake the truck and slow it down.
  • Safety Valves – Valves on the bottom of the truck are designed to shear off and safely secure the liquid in the tanker during an accident or if a vehicle drives an undertaker tanker.
  • Manlids on the top of the tanker are fitted with roll-over devices that in the event of a rollover will seal the aperture. The danger on the top of the tanker is that the expansion and contraction of the fuel mean that each compartment must be able to breathe (or the pressure in the tank could fracture it catastrophically).  Allowing the tank to breathe means that in the event the tanker rolls over, there would be an obvious leak path for liquid to escape which could cause a fire or an environmental catastrophe.
  • Internal bulkheads, baffles, and tanks engineered for a low center of gravity – Fuel is expanding and contracting with temperature and moving around the tanker as it drives around corners and is accelerating or braking, which constantly changes the vehicle’s center of gravity.  To reduce the impact of this, tankers are designed with very low centers of gravity and have internal bulkheads fitted for strength and to separate each liquid compartment. They also have baffles to reduce product surge when braking or cornering (see below).
  • Fires will still occur.  The issue is to ensure that in the event of a fire, you design equipment to allow for a uniform burn rather than a catastrophic explosion.  A fire will raise the pressure in the tank, but each manlid is fitted with a fire engulfment vent that will release this pressure in a fraction of a second and then re-seal.  This will allow the fire to burn but will prevent an explosion.

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