Right Driver

What is a tanker truck?

A tanker truck or tanker is a truck or trailer designed to carry bulk liquids or gases on the road. They come in two physical configurations:

  1. The tank is connected to the chassis of the truck or trailer
  2. The tank is connected via ISO locks to a flat deck or skeletal trailer or truck and can be removed for intermodal transport (e.g. loaded onto a ship or train)
Tank attached to skeletal trailer.

The tanks themselves come in different configurations depending on what’s being carried, for example:

  • Insulated vs non-insulated
  • Pressurised vs non-pressurised
  • Compartmentalised vs single product load

The most common type of tanker is a fuel tanker – they transport fuel from major hubs out to individual petrol stations.

Fuel tanker semitrailer.

In countries like Australia, A double, B double and road train combinations are allowed where the ‘prime mover’ (the cab) pulls two or more trailers.

Checking the tyres on this road train would be almost a full-time job.

The dangers of driving a tanker

Tankers can carry all kinds of liquids, some of them toxic, explosive or corrosive. A tanker carrying 35,000 litres of fuel is a rolling bomb in the wrong situations.

When a large tanker spills its load, there’s a huge volume of liquid. If the fuel is flammable, heat from the engine can ignite it. If it’s toxic, fumes can overwhelm people nearby.

Drivers need special training in dangerous goods legislation and handling to drive tankers carrying hazardous goods so that they know what to do in an emergency.

Small fuel tanker at a wharf displaying ADR/HAZCHEM signage

Partial loads in a tank are called a live load. This is because they slosh around under cornering and braking. The risk of rollover in a tanker truck is high in comparison to some other loads because the centre of gravity is high and always moving. Rollover awareness and prevention training is advised for all truck drivers.

Baffles that slow down the movement of liquid in the tank can stop the forwards/backwards sloshing under braking which causes the truck to ‘push’.

Tanker drivers learn to brake early and smoothly, and take very smooth lines around corners. Driving a tanker requires more concentration than most other types of truck.

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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