Brake Safety For Commercial Trucks

Commercial motor vehicle brake safety was emphasized recently in the annual “Brake Safety Week” campaign. The campaign, which took place in September 2014, was part of the Operation Air-brake program sponsored by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance in partnership with the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It was designed to improve commercial vehicle brake safety throughout North America. Thousands of brake inspections were performed during this initiative by roadside inspectors to verify compliance with safety standards.

 Almost half of the out-of-service roadside inspection violations on commercial vehicles are due to brake system violations, being outranked only by violations relating to hours of service regulations. Improperly installed or poorly maintained brake systems can reduce the braking capacity and stopping distance of trucks and buses, which poses a serious risk to drivers and those around them.

Brake violations can be significantly decreased by proper preventative maintenance and driver training. Any time a vehicle is taken in for scheduled maintenance or for any repair, the brake system should be checked by a qualified technician. Part of this inspection should include the “at the wheel” components, including the slack adjuster for condition and free play; all connecting hardware for looseness, damage and excessive wear; the brake chamber for leaks, mounting and condition; the airline(s) supplying the chamber for condition, cuts, wear and rubbing; the brake linings/pads for wear; and the brake drum or rotor for wear and cracks.

An operational check of the overall system should also be conducted to make sure the system does not leak air; the low-air warning indicators function; the parking/emergency brake system will activate should air pressure fall below minimums; and the “tractor protection valve” (unique to tractor-trailers) functions correctly.

Proper driver training is also an important part of maintaining a good brake system. The drivers should be performing their own inspections, including “at the wheel” inspections. Drivers should be properly trained on checking components such as airlines, tanks, hoses and fittings; and they should know what is considered “passing” and “failing.” Drivers should also be taught how to conduct a “system check” that includes a leak check, a check of the low-air warning device, a test of the emergency brakes, a check of the compressor build-up rate, a check of the parking brakes, and a rolling check of the service brakes. These inspections are essential to brake system safety and performance.

Properly functioning brake systems are critical to improving roadway safety and trucking companies have an obligation to make sure safety systems on their trucks, like brakes, are fully operational.