How to “SPOT” Trucks Carrying Hazardous Materials on Highways during Road Trips?


(Image compliments of dreamstime royalty free photos)

I travel to NJ by car frequently for long weekends. This past summer, I took a long road trip from Northern Virginia to New England.   This large span of highway took me close to ten hours in my personal vehicle without traffic delays or any traffic-related accidents.

On these trips I often encounter the now familiar visions of red brake/tail lights in front of me, and hear the screeching of brakes coming from somewhere around me and hope/pray that the other vehicle is not near me. Sometimes these massive slow-downs are a result of a car fire, a traffic accident with multiple vehicles, or bumper-to-bumper traffic due to people viewing a recent incident on the other side of the highway.

While I am sitting at a stand-still, I often wonder how the policeman that arrives while I am sitting in traffic know whom to call to clean the roadway to make it safe for others?   When we are allowed to move forward and get closer to the incident, we have all seen them – those responders, that are in their “special” suits and masks called in to deal with cleaning up this roadway mess, an image that may look similar to this one:

(Image compliments of US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration website)

(Image compliments of US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration website)

They often arrive after the incident has taken place. Aside from their sense of smell, how do they know what type of hazardous material is on the roadway? Are all chemical spills treated the same way?

According to the Department of Transportation (US DOT), Federal Highway Administration’s publication targeted at First Responders titled “Traffic Incident Management in Hazardous Materials: Spills in Incident Clearance”. The Federal Highway Administration’s mission is to “Keep America Moving”.

Traffic Incident Management (TIM) and spill management are two of the tools in the “resource toolbox” that focus on reducing congestion.

050-000-00596-8[1]The purpose of this document is to report practices regarding the clean-up of incidental spills and to explain the use of the United States Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG). This document also describes techniques and strategies that can be used to handle hazardous material spills at traffic incidents.

Volume of Hazardous Material Shipments

(Image compliments of dreamstime-copyright-free images)

(Image compliments of dreamstime-copyright-free images)

Current research indicates that hazardous materials traffic in the U.S. now exceeds 800,000 shipments per day.   When you think about how many trucks you see while driving on the highways and airplanes flying overhead daily, that is an abundance of hazardous materials being transported!

The largest tank volume is the saddle tank (normally 70 gallons) on a semi-truck. Depending on the number of tanks on the truck, the maximum capacity for fuel for a commercial vehicle can be as much as 350 to 420 gallons!

Types of Hazardous Materials

(Image compliments of U.S. Department of Transportation website)

(Image compliments of U.S. Department of Transportation website)

Under the DOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations notations included in this guide, (HMR; 49 CFR Parts 171-180) hazardous materials are categorized by analysis and experience into hazard classes and packing groups. Each shipper is required to classify a material according to these hazard classes and packing groups and communicate the material’s hazards. The shipper repetitively communicates the hazard through the use of package labels, shipping papers, and placards on transport vehicles.

The DOT has broad jurisdiction to regulate hazardous materials that are in transport, including the discretion to decide which materials shall be classified as “hazardous.” These materials are placed in one of nine (9) hazard classes based on their chemical and physical properties. Therefore, it’s important for response personnel to understand the hazard classes, their divisions, and reclassified materials so they can assess the situation and respond, accordingly.

Here is an image of a sampling of the types of placards that you may be able to recognize on trucks traveling the US highways with you:

(Images compliments of Wikipedia)

(Images compliments of Wikipedia)

You can find this Transportation Incident050-001-00345-7[2] Management in Hazardous Materials Spills in Incident Clearance print book available at the US Government Printing Office Overstock Sale here.

While supplies last, you can check out all the titles in our 50% Off Overstock collection here.

GPOVERSTOCK-SALE-BannerOur Overstock Sale includes an assortment of print and eBook titles discounted by 50% from the list price ranging in topical categories from military history …. to transportation …. to health resources ….. to childcare …… check out this clearance sale today!


About the Author – This week’s blog contributor is Maureen Whelan, Senior Marketing Team Leader for GPO’s Publication & Information Sales division  in Washington, DC.  Maureen oversees print and digital content dissemination strategy and manages third party free and paid content distribution vendors such as Apple iBookstoreGoogle Play eBookstoreEBSCOhostOverdrive, and more.


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