ENG safety – or lack thereof -usually conjures up images of pneumatic masks errantly being raised into high-voltage power lines with the associated disastrous consequences of fire, injury or even death.
However, a stealthier and potentially more likely cause for concern among stations and news organizations operating ENG and SNG vehicles lurks: excessive weight.
All commercial vehicles have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). A sticker affixed inside the doorframe shows the maximum gross axel weight rating (GAWR) for the front and rear axels as well as the GVWR for the entire vehicle.
ENG and SNG can require a significant amount of production equipment, like cameras, lights, mics, cabling, racks, machines, generators, compressors, masts, monitors and antennas permanently installed in the truck. When taken together with the weight of the passengers and the vehicle itself, exceeding the GVWR of a vehicle is a real possibility.
The consequences can be disastrous. Such vehicles can become harder to handle and the extra weight can cause critical mechanisms, including suspension components, and even wheels and tires to fail. The result can be loss of control, damage and death.
Unlike raising a mast into power lines, the danger from excessively heavy vehicles can be stealthy, striking not the moment GWVR is exceeded but at some indeterminate point in the future after days, weeks or months of cumulative stress on the vehicle has taken its toll.
Alterations made to a vehicle by ENG and SNG truck fabricators generally fall under the jurisdiction of the National Highway Safety Administration.
According to Harry Thompson, chief of the NHSA’s Vehicle Crash Avoidance Division, modifying GAWR is much easier than changing the GVWR of a vehicle. Upgrading the axel rating can be as simple as changing out the tires. Modifying the GVWR is a difficult thing to do, requiring modifications such as the addition of frame stiffeners or augmenting the vehicle’s structure in other ways, he said.