Transporting Hazardous Materials is Heavily Regulated by Federal State and Local Law

Due to their large size and weight, commercial trucks that crash have the potential to cause great harm. When commercial trucks that are carrying hazardous cargo crash, the catastrophic risks to life and property are even more dire. That's why hazardous material shipping is regulated by a multitude of governmental agencies: federal, state and local.

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 1975 established federal statutes for transporting hazardous cargo throughout the United States. Federal oversight of hazardous materials on the nation's highways falls to the Federal Highway Administration. For hazardous materials shipped by rail it's the Federal Railroad Administration. By air: Federal Aviation Administration. Maritime shipping: the U.S. Coast Guard.

Examples of Hazardous Materials in Transit

Hazardous materials are broadly defined as those that "may pose an unreasonable risk to health and safety or property." The 1975 law further identified what constitutes hazardous cargo using several categories and sub-categories, including:

  • Explosives and blasting agents
  • Compressed gas
  • Flammable and combustible liquids
  • Poisonous gases and liquids
  • Materials that give off dangerous or irritating fumes when exposed to air or fire
  • Radioactive material

It also set guidelines for the packaging and labeling of hazardous materials, mandated safety training programs and rapid emergency response protocols for those involved in transporting hazardous materials, and required that carries have proper paperwork at all times. Regulations apply to carriers and their employees alike.

Legislation That Established Uniform Regulations for Transporting Hazardous Materials

Even after the legislation was passed in 1975, confusing conflicts existed between state, local and federal laws with regard to hazardous materials shipping. So in 1990, Congress passed the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act to update the previous law and to foster uniformity between the various governmental agencies' regulations. Under this legislation, regulations also were largely revised in adherence to United Nations recommendations for hazardous cargo transportation, to also establish greater uniformity with international law.

Carriers must undergo thorough examinations and inspections to receive and maintain legal permits that allow them to ship hazardous cargo - either by roadway, rail, air or water. Carriers that don't follow regulations can have their permits pulled. These companies may also be found liable for the property damage, catastrophic injury, and loss of life that occurs from exposure to hazardous materials. When sued and found liable, they must provide financial compensation to their victims.

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