An analysis of why trucks and tankers hauling hazardous materials crash includes this summary of the overall problem (academic reference omitted):
HAZMAT crashes on highways often result in more severe injuries, although the number of crashes is low relative to the amount of HAZMAT that moves on the highway. In 2014, a total of 3744 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes in the U.S., of which 112 (about 3 percent) were carrying HAZMAT. A single crash involving a HAZMAT vehicle in a densely-populated area has a much greater potential to cause significant casualty, injury, and damage to the environment and property than that of a typical commercial vehicle. Indeed, the majority of HAZMAT crashes lead to extensive property damage and network disruption. Furthermore, HAZMAT crashes can increase the injury risk due to fires immediately after the crash; this might occur if vehicle carries gasoline or diesel.
A real-world example of this involved a fatal hazmat tanker crash on I-95 in Fairfax County, Virginia (VA). The big rig overturned, igniting the flammable liquid cargo and killing the truck driver.
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HAZMAT truck drivers receive special training, and the tanks and containers used to transport hazardous materials are designed to resist spills, ruptures and punctures. Despite these safeguards, people who share the highway with HAZMAT truck face real risks of being not only injured in a collision, but exposed to toxic, corrosive and radioactive substances.
Should you find yourself in such a potentially deadly situation, here are three actions to take immediately.
- Put as much distance between yourself and the crash scene as possible. If you can move your vehicle, do so. Run away if necessary. Poisonous gases and fumes that can cause irreversible damage to your airway are risks during all HAZMAT situations. That is in addition to any dangers from fires, explosions and getting chemicals on your skin.
- Report the HAZMAT situation to police and EMTs. Make sure that the 911 dispatcher you call understands that first responders will encounter hazardous materials. This protects the individuals who rush to the crash scene to provide aid. It also ensures that police, firefighters and medical personnel will arrive with the tools and equipment needed to address the situation.
- Get checked out for skin, eye and lung exposures. Accept an EMT’s offer to screen you for health problems or visit your doctor soon after leaving the crash scene. Even very small and brief exposures to some types of hazardous materials will do serious, long-lasting damage. Receiving proper decontamination and quick treatment can prevent major health problems down the line.