GAO finds holes in tanker truck oversight

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The department’s information “cannot be used to reliably identify risks” from the bottom part of the trucks through which they are loaded or unloaded, the report found.

The data contain “inaccuracies” about details like whether or not a person was killed in an accident. Additionally, incidents involving loading that part of the truck, known as the trucks’ “wetlines” are “not specifically identified” in the records.

Those wetlines can contain up to 50 gallons of liquid and can rupture during a crash, spilling their combustible contents.

The Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) keeps a database of incidents involving hazardous materials, based on reports from truckers. The reporting forms do not include a way to specify that the accidents involved the truck’s wetline, however, which the GAO determined caused the agency to miss recording some information.

“PHMSA has made efforts to improve its data, such as adding quality checks, but this has not affected how wetline incidents are reported, and inaccuracies remain,” the report found.

The GAO, which acts as Congress’s investigative arm, suggested that the PHMSA update its forms to require that truckers specifically report when an accident involves a truck’s wetline.

Additionally, the GAO worried that the poor accounting was bleeding into the cost-benefit analyses the agency performs on its new rules. Not accounting for uncertainty due to the missing information could mean that the “PHMSA's analysis may not accurately represent the costs and benefits of its proposed rule.”