At some point, you may have been driving down the highway and noticed a large semi-truck barreling toward you in your rearview mirror. Perhaps you were startled by how quickly it was approaching, especially if you were speeding yourself. But did you worry about its brakes?
Most collisions between trucks and passenger vehicles start with the passenger vehicle. But the truck drivers, trucking companies or trucks’ mechanical failures still cause roughly 44% of them. In a groundbreaking study, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that trucks’ brake failures contributed to 29% of all truck crashes.
Large trucks’ brake failures are more complex
Why do so many trucks have brake failures? The answer owes to the extra complexity associated with truck brakes and maintenance. Also, some brake failures may owe as much to the driver’s poor training as to the mechanics of the brakes themselves. The result is that, as we noted in an earlier article, the parties at fault in truck crashes might not have driven either vehicle. It’s possible the failure lies with the trucking company, a third-party maintenance company or even the brakes’ manufacturer.
As one veteran trucker noted in an older article on Truckinginfo, the idea that truck brakes “fail” is an oversimplification of the problem. The author argued that the brakes may, instead, “malfunction” or overheat and cease to work properly. But there’s almost always a reason the brakes stop working.
Some of these reasons include:
- Poor adjustment. Larger trucks commonly use air brakes, which work differently than the hydraulic brakes in passenger vehicles. These brakes often rely on automatic slack adjusters, which need regular maintenance. When they aren’t properly adjusted, they can cause disruptions to the brakes’ air flow and prevent the brakes from working right.
- Poor training. Because air brakes are different from hydraulic brakes, drivers need training to operate them properly. But they don’t always receive this training. As a result, they may not understand how air brakes can overheat or how they feature a more delayed response time than hydraulic brakes. Companies should make sure their drivers have the training they need to drive their vehicles.
- Rules violations. Truck companies need to meet the standards set by numerous rules and regulations. The FMCSA oversees many of these, and it requires yearly inspections of all commercial trucks. However, trucks don’t always pass these inspections. And a recent article on FreightWaves.com reported that FMCSA pulled 755,000 vehicles out of service in 2018 due to failed roadside inspections. The failures ranged from inadequate licensure to missing logs.
As a result, trucks’ brake failures may owe to improper maintenance, drivers who use them incorrectly or companies that fail to document their maintenance and who simply don’t know what’s happening.
Don’t count on large truck brakes
What all of this means for you is you shouldn’t count on large truck brakes. Most truck drivers take their jobs seriously and drive safely, but when you see that truck rumbling toward you in your rearview mirror, you may want to pull over and let it pass. You shouldn’t tempt fate by cutting off trucks and forcing them to brake quickly in response.
Still, there’s a chance that things may go wrong even when you respect the time and distance trucks need to stop. If that failure is due to bad brakes, getting the compensation you deserve may hinge on understanding just what it means for a truck to have “bad brakes.” That’s an important step in figuring out who was responsible for the failure.