The fire raged so hot that the concrete of the overpass began to actually explode as the moisture within it boiled. The driver of the diesel fuel carrier had come to a stop under an overpass on Highway 60 in California after seeing flames trailing his tanker. His decision to come to an immediate stop saved his life, but ensured the destruction of a bridge and resulted in the closure of major freeway in California. The argument as to whether he had done the right thing immediately ensued. On the one side, the driver was criticized for not simply pulling the rig twenty feet forward to avoid the underpass’ destruction. On the other, he was considered smart and even heroic for having intentionally parked under the overpass so that in the event of a full explosion, flying shrapnel from the tank and rig wouldn’t cause further havoc with bystanders. Which was it? Neither, really - the driver was simply trying to get out of his truck as fast as he could and he just happened to stop under the bridge… it seems his life was more important than causing a traffic jam. No s**t. It has to be about protecting yourself, and other travellers on the roadway.
Collisions, rollovers, jack-knifes, catastrophic equipment failures – any number of problems can turn a trucker’s “office” into a rolling nightmare. The fatal injury numbers for “Drivers and truck drivers” in reports by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) actually saw total 2012 fatalities drop by 4% from 2011, down to 741 total deaths. However, the number of large truck related fatalities - including civilian involved vehicles - rose by 8.9%. Worse, despite the 4% decline in driver fatalities, the occupation category of “Drivers and truck drivers” made up nearly 17% of all U.S. worker fatalities in 2012.
Numbers for injuries and fatalities specific to energy trucking are not separated for trucking in general. Thus, there is no certainty as to whether trucking gas, crude oil, fracking fluids or any related support products including sand, water, and construction materials is more or less dangerous than any other trucking job. Regardless, trucking is indeed dangerous, and it seems that energy trucking is especially hazardous.
It takes some 1,150 truckloads of equipment, construction material, sand and water to complete work on a North Dakota shale well. Double the number to include return trips and you’ve got 2,300 trips per well. Add to that volume the current and constant deteriorating condition of Bakken region roads and it becomes apparent the unreported numbers of injuries and fatalities for energy trucking in the Bakken alone is likely on the rise. And with upwards of an estimated 32,000 new wells being drilled nationwide in the next twenty years it should raise alarms for the trucking industry in that it may be time to take a step back and look at the issues they’re facing.
In the late Spring of 2013, a task force made up of the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Trucking Association, and the National Tank Truck Carriers, came together to create two dozen recommendations for improved road safety and traffic management in oil and gas operations. But as often happens with these types of efforts, are the guys behind the wheel paying attention? It’s easy for a driver to get jaded after just a few years of driving. Passenger vehicle drivers seem to have no respect for a rig that’s up to 30 times their car’s weight. They have no problem cutting off or pulling out in front of a trucker whose breaking distance can be twice that of a car, especially with hot breaks. Jobbers, company men, foreman - guys who’ve never sat in a rig - make demands of a driver without any consideration of the demanding nature of gearing a load down a muddy, ungraded, pothole filled road when trying to keep a schedule. A rig is not designed to be an ATV. Traffic jams, endless hours of waiting to load, always at the mercy of someone else to do their job in order for the trucker to be able to do his job. The frustration is mind numbing. Then some new mandate from the company, or the government, or some “think tank” comes down to ensure that these frustrations continue to mount.
Test your knowledge
So, if you’re a trucker and not really interested in hearing more about what you should be doing to be safer, maybe you should prove your knowledge of the notion that you do know better than those who aren’t behind the wheel. The questions are in bold…. The answers are in the paragraph that follows:
Most American’s think that accidents between large trucks and cars are mostly caused by truckers. Truckers of course would be certain that most accidents are caused by passenger vehicles. Which is correct?
The Department of Transportation conducted an exhaustive study of the causes of large truck crashes, colorfully titled, “The Large Truck Crash Causation Study”. Though the data is old – from 2001-2003, the comprehensive nature of the study over a three year period is very telling, and likely applicable to what’s happening today. DOT’s conclusion was that in 58.8% of all truck crashes, the cause was due to the action of another vehicle. Truckers 1, everyone else 0. Some 20%, or one in five of all wrecks were due to the truck (meaning, the driver or a failure of the truck itself). In those cases where the “truck” was at fault though, 87% were due to driver error while 10% were caused by vehicle failure (tire blowouts, brake failure) and 3% environmental (wind, ice etc..)
In cases where the “truck” (mechanical or driver error) was at fault, what is the most common occurrence resulting in an accident? Take your pick.
A. Running out of the travel lane, either into another lane or off the road.
B. Vehicle loss of control (due to travelling too fast for conditions, cargo shift, vehicle systems failure, poor road conditions, or other reasons.)
C. Colliding with the rear end of another vehicle in the truck’s travel lane
Though a tight margin exists between the most common and second most common occurrence, a truck running out of lanes (for whatever reason) is the most common occurrence when the truck was at fault in 32% of wrecks. Loss of control of the truck followed at 29% and rear end collisions were at the heart of 22% of wrecks.
One more: In which scenario is a truck driver to be more likely involved in a fatal truck crash?
A. In a city, at night, on a weekday?
B. In a rural area, during the day, on the weekend?
C. On a major highway, in the evening, during a holiday.
This one was a bit surprising, but a trucker was more likely to be involved in a fatal accident in scenario “B”. Of fatal truck accidents:
68% happened in rural areas;
66% happened during the day; and
78% of fatal truck accidents happened on the weekend.
More current data is more revealing. From 2010 to 2011, the percentage of “large-truck occupants killed” during a wreck jumped by 20% with 635 drivers and their passengers killed. Though close to 60% of those fatalities were not the fault of the driver or the truck, in the 40% of fatalities in which they were to blame, the leading factors in top to bottom order were: travelling too fast, unfamiliarity with the roadway, over the counter drug use, and fatigue/distracted driving. Data tells the tale of the tape. Though a trucker can’t control what other driver’s do to create their worst nightmare, there are most certainly things that can be done to avoid a variety of factors that cause wrecks.
Are you paying attention?
Some truckers are certainly more careless than others. But for the most part, if a driver can get past the sometimes mindless company mandates and ever changing federal rules, paying attention to some basic recommendations for driving the oil and gas roads could possibly save them from injury or death, and certainly help in saving their cargo.
From the 2013 “Trucking Safety Task Force” made up of The American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Trucking Association, and the National Tank Truck Carrier in 2013, here are some of the more importance road safety and traffic management suggestions in oil and gas operations to both drivers and trucking companies. Some may seem obvious but are worth taking a look at: Continued education of drivers to avoid tank rollovers.
The tank truck industry and U.S. Department of Transportation have developed a Cargo Tank Rollover Prevention Video and other materials to help combat this problem. The video link can be found to the right of this article:
-this is a pretty good video - even experienced drivers can benefit from reminders and new information about risks.
BONUS ROUND Quiz Question
Over 1,300 cargo tank rollovers are reported each year – half of them occurred on a straight roadway. What is the most common cause of tank rollovers?
A. Driving too fast
B. Slosh and surge
C. Reverse tripping
Some 63% of rollover crashes occurred with cargo tanks carrying partial loads thus creating the “slosh and surge” effect of liquid loads.
Maintain close attention to the condition of road and potential hazards and communicate these risks to other drivers.
Companies must not operate illegally overweight equipment to avoid the corresponding impact to local roads. Logistics managers should travel the same roads as their trucks to better plan trips and develop possible time and route options.
Ensure drivers are well-rested and prepared for the challenges ahead.
Transportation companies should manage their operations to prevent driver fatigue and frustration, especially for drivers who are new to oil and natural gas operations. For drivers who will be working away from home for long periods of time, schedules should be developed that enable drivers to manage their alertness within hours of service regulations and to get home on a regular basis for quality rest and relaxation.
Minimize wait times and provide basic facilities when extended waits are necessary to support and promote alert and well-rested drivers.
Where possible, producers should communicate with transporters to minimize the amount of “waiting time” on well sites.
And remember – an accident will end your run, and can end every run you’ll ever have.