NTSB Holds Hearings to Address Truck Rollover Accidents

Anytime a tractor-trailer is involved in a crash, the potential for serious injuries is high. These vehicles travel at high speeds while carrying heavy loads, which may include hazardous materials. When these vehicles collide with smaller passenger vehicles, the consequences are often catastrophic.

When these trucks rollover, the potential for serious harms only increases. And while rollovers account for a small percentage of accidents involving tractor-trailers, these accidents disproportionately result in fatalities.

Trucks designed to transport liquids, known as tanker trucks, are especially susceptible to rollovers because of their high center of gravity. While only six percent of all large trucks are tanker trucks, they account for almost a third of all fatal commercial truck rollover crashes, according to the National Transit Safety Board (NTSB). Moreover, these trucks often carry hazardous materials, which can elevate the dangers associated with a crash.

Prompted by a serious crash last year involving a tanker truck carrying propane, NTSB convened hearings earlier this month to review current measures in place to prevent rollover accidents.

The hearings included testimony from a variety of sources, including a representative from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Nathaniel Beuse. According to Beuse, simple measures could be taken to reduce these accidents. Mandating stability control systems for trucks could prevent nearly 3,500 rollover accidents, avoid nearly 4,400 injuries and save more than 100 lives each year.

Essentially, the systems use sensors to monitor when weight is shifting (which happens often when carrying liquids). When the cargo is shifting, the onboard computer overrides the driver and applies brakes to the wheels as necessary to prevent the vehicle from tipping.

These stability control systems are already commercially available, and have been for about five years. However, in the absence of a government mandate, truck owners and trucking companies have been slow to adopt this technology.

Mr. Beuse informed the NTSB hearing board that the NHTSA is currently reviewing the potential benefits of mandating these systems, and is planning to complete this review by the end of the year. New regulations may be implemented as early as 2012.