Vehicle inspections should follow tragic tanker crash

Uncertainty surrounds cause of Almaty tanker crash with implications on maintenance standards of heavy goods vehicles in the country.

Kazakhstan’s authorities and accident investigators are still unravelling the cause of an accident in the centre of the country’s largest city, Almaty which took place on the 27th June 2013.

Dash-cam video footage of the HGV travelling down the steep city centre street suggests that the driver may have been having difficulty controlling the vehicle on the incline which stretches for a considerable distance beyond the accident site and crossing several traffic lights before levelling out.

In such circumstances, if the brakes were inoperative, the driver would have had no chance on such a busy morning to avoid colliding with other road users over that distance. The video shows that the lorry’s brake lights were on but it wasn’t slowing down and after clipping the covered pick-up truck at the junction, the tanker driver managed to avoid an oncoming trolleybus, regain control and drive in a straight line on the correct side of the road. It was only when the vehicle was further down the road that it veered to the right striking a row of parked cars and the tree. (See video at the foot of this article)

The driver, 27-year-old father of two Alexander Goryunov, died at the scene after being trapped in the cab. After initial speculation that he had not been sober or that he had been driving recklessly, it is now thought that his vehicle was uncontrollable due to a mechanical failure and that he deliberately drove into the parked cars to absorb the impact and avoid striking traffic that had built up at a red signal at the junction further down the street.

Total brake failures on lorries with air brakes are extremely rare as they are designed with redundancy and fail-safe systems so that the brakes are applied when there’s a loss of air pressure. Poor maintenance resulting from severe and sustained neglect will cause a reduction in braking performance to the extent that a heavy vehicle going down an incline would have little chance of slowing.

Brake failure isn’t known to be the cause of this accident and the investigation may take some time to reach its conclusions. However, whilst this is a possibility and since such failures are only possible through serious neglect, the tanker’s operator “Helios” has a civic responsibility to withdraw its full fleet of vehicles from service until independent expert inspections have been performed on the standard of its vehicles.

If Helios is unwilling to take this step, the company should be forced to withdraw its fleet from service until a full investigation has established the cause.

Accidents in the CIS involving HGV equipment are often blamed on equipment failure and the establishment of an enforcement body such as the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) in the UK or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the USA will prove invaluable towards improving the safe use of commercial vehicles in the region.

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