A Channel 2 Action News investigation caught hazmat drivers smoking, using hand-held cellphones and eating while hauling fuel.
We recorded video of a half-dozen hazmat drivers smoking behind the wheel. That is inherently dangerous because, experts say, the fuel the drivers are hauling can easily catch fire and can even cause an explosion.
For two months, our cameras were rolling as hazmat drivers broke federal regulations. We caught six of them smoking, and even caught one driver doing it three separate times.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Wendy Halloran confronted one driver.
“Does your employer know that you’re smoking while driving this hazmat truck? No?” asked Halloran.
“I’m not smoking,” said the driver.
“We have you on video sir. Would you like to see it?” asked Halloran.
“No,” the driver replied.
The driver denied it was him smoking on the video.
“You don’t want to see this?” asked Halloran.
“No,” said the driver.
“It’s not you?” asked Halloran.
“Nope,” said the driver.
But we compared video of him smoking side-by-side with video of us confronting him. Off camera, he admitted he had been smoking in his truck. He told us he is a part-time firefighter and well aware of the danger.
“You’re carrying a highly flammable material,” said Halloran.
“I agree,” said the driver.
“That’s my biggest pet peeve is smoking,” said a hazmat driver who tipped us off to the dangerous behavior.
He told us it’s not just drivers smoking behind the wheel.
“Smoking while pumping,” he said. “I think the entire public, not just the driving public, should care about that.”
He says mixing lit cigarettes and fuel can have fatal consequences.
“It’s explosive,” he said.
“It’s not the liquid itself that burns, it’s the vapors. Depending on the wind direction, you can smell it. The concentration gets right, you light a cigarette up, it can burn,” said Lt. William Satterfield, with the Georgia Department of Public Safety.
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He told us he once caught a hazmat driver smoking during an inspection.
“I was at the rear of the trailer and he was within 3 feet of it, explaining the valving on the back of the trailer, and just out of habit, pulled one out and lit it up,” Satterfield said.
By federal regulation, hazmat drivers are not allowed to smoke within 25 feet of their trucks.
And it’s not just smoking. We caught hazmat drivers texting, holding their cellphones and eating, which are all violations.
“A lot of them do eat behind the wheel, and we do stop them when we see them,” Satterfield said.
We filed an open records request with the Georgia Department of Public Safety. An employee said the department doesn't break down the violations by hazmat drivers or if a driver was cited for eating or smoking.
We found that, between January 2015 and January 2018, 340 commercial vehicle drivers were cited for not exercising due regard for safety and texting while driving.
We called Explorer Transport, the company that employs the driver Halloran confronted. We told Explorer Transport we caught four of its drivers lighting up. A company official told us the four will be disciplined but not terminated.
Atlanta Fuel Company’s President Cheryl Waters left us a voicemail message saying the company fired one of the drivers we caught smoking.
“I’ve identified which driver that was and we are terminating him today,” said Waters in the voicemail.
We called the other trucking companies to notify them of the video we recorded of their drivers smoking, using hand-held cellphones or eating. S.A. White Oil Company told us it has a signed driving policy that it enforces. Florida Rock and Tank Lines said, if it finds its drivers violating safety rules, it takes disciplinary action.
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