How Likely are Semi-Trucks to Explode in California?
Most people are not aware that semi-trucks are like ticking time bombs. Even if they are not carrying explosive cargo, they feature gas tanks that are much larger than that of a typical passenger vehicle. A slight spark after a collision can lead to a serious explosion, blanketing a wide radius in flames. This can make existing auto injuries much worse. Even if victims suffer only minor injuries in the initial crash, they may be trapped inside their vehicles when the explosion occurs – causing them to suffer disfiguring and fatal burns. But how likely is this scenario really? Do semi-trucks explode on a regular basis in California? And perhaps most importantly, what can you do if you have been injured by a fiery semi-truck crash in California? Let’s find out:
The Statistics are Frightening
According to PENSKE, approximately 7,000 trucks catch fire every year across the nation. Each one of these incidents puts people in serious danger. In total, 17% of fatal traffic fires per year are caused by large trucks – despite the fact that trucks are only responsible for 8% of all fatal crashes per year. The US Department of Transportation has concluded that the “rate of fatalities from large truck fires far outweighs their presence on our roads, to a greater degree than fatalities from crashes.” They also found that “Fatal fires involving commercial trucks represent 17% of all fatal highway fire incidents, and more than twice the proportion of all fatal crash incidents.”
75% of all truck fires involve Class 8 vehicles, and fatal fires are almost exclusively related to Class 8 trucks, with a 90% share. This shows that the largest and heaviest trucks are most vulnerable to frequent, serious, and fatal fires. This makes sense when you consider that larger trucks are both more difficult to control and feature larger gas tanks with greater amounts of flammable fluid. Another obvious conclusion is that trucks that have been poorly maintained are more likely to catch fire.
What Causes Truck Fires?
The gas tank might provide the fuel for these explosions and fires – but what exactly is the catalyst? What sparks these fires and causes trucks to go up in flames? The Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Truckers Association has identified four of the most common causes:
- Brakes: If the cargo is heavy and the truck is subjected to heavy braking conditions, temperatures can skyrocket. This heat can cause grease to ignite, thereby causing the fire to spread to the tires, the gas tank, or potentially other wrecked vehicles nearby.
- Wheel Bearings: Wheel bearing fires are especially common if maintenance crews have failed to adequately lubricate the area. This may also be caused by lube loss as a result of seal failures or contamination.
- Air Leaks: Fires are fueled by oxygen, and air leaks can cause minor sparks to blossom into huge infernos or even explosions. A leak in the exhaust pipe can cause hot, escaping gasses to impinge on combustible materials and spark fires.
- Tires: Like brakes, tires can become incredibly hot due to friction. When this heat builds up, it can ignite the rubber and spark fires that spread throughout the vehicle. These issues are especially serious in warm states like California.
When are Truck Fires Caused by Negligence?
In some cases, truck fires and explosions are caused by obvious, reckless negligence. Such was the case when a trucking safety manager in California decided to fix hazmat tankers despite being completely unqualified to do so. On February 24th of 2023, it was reported that this former safety manager – who was overseeing two separate trucking companies in California at the time – was sentenced to three years of probation for an “illegal cargo tank repair conspiracy.”
This individual had been conducting repairs on cargo tanks, even though he knew that he did not have the necessary qualifications. As the Department of Transportation noted:
“[The defendant] operated as a cargo tank repair company contracted to repair hazardous material tankers. However, the company was not registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct such repairs.”
As a direct result of this fraudulent and unsafe conduct, an oil tanker exploded in 2014 – killing one man and leaving another critically injured. After this incident, the defendant simply started working for a different tank welding company to carry exactly the same fraudulent services. This shows how important it is for trucking companies to conduct regular, reliable repairs on their vehicles.
How Can Trucking Companies Reduce the Risk of Explosions and Fires?
There are a number of steps truckers and trucking companies can take to reduce the risk of explosions and fires. One simple option is to do a safety check of the braking system – ensuring all components are operational. Truckers should also adjust their brake pads properly, keep wheel bearings lubricated, check for blown air seals, listen for air leaks, keep tire air pressure at appropriate levels, and keep dual tires apart.
Trucking companies themselves can also conduct more thorough inspections and safety checks with the help of trained mechanics. This includes the assessment of fluid hoses, keeping electrical cables away from fluids, keeping cargo sealed, and removing unsafe aftermarket equipment. Companies should also exercise additional caution when hauling hazardous materials.
Where Can I Find a Personal Injury Attorney in California?
If you have been searching for an experienced truck accident injury attorney in California, look no further than Mary Alexander & Associates. We know how devastating and traumatic fiery truck accidents can be. Whether you have suffered injuries yourself or whether you have lost a loved one in one of these incidents, you are fully within your rights to take legal action. Book your consultation today to determine what kind of steps you can take to hold negligent trucking companies accountable for the distress and physical injuries you have been forced to endure. Each situation is slightly different, and internet research cannot provide you with the same level of personalized attention as a lawyer. Reach out today to get started and pursue justice effectively.