Sharing the road with these big rigs can be a frightening experience. The size and sound of an 18-wheeler approaching on its own is overwhelming. But what if you knew that the truck next to you had bad brakes?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) did its first truck crash causation study in the early aughts, looking at about 1000 truck crashes between 2001 and 2003. The agency found that of the hundreds of associated factors for each crash, one of the top reasons was problems with brakes.
This makes sense when you think about the braking capability of a heavy-duty truck. It takes trucks additional time and distance to come to a complete stop, compared to passenger vehicles. A passenger car weighing about 4,000 pounds, traveling at 65 miles per hour needs about the length of a football field to come to a complete stop, while a semi-truck weighing in at 80,000 pounds needs more like two or three football fields to come to a complete stop.
In 2020, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) confirmed that braking is still an issue for large commercial vehicles today, claiming that “braking capability can be a factor in truck crashes. Loaded tractor-trailers require 20-40 percent more distance than cars to stop, and the discrepancy is greater on wet and slippery roads or with poorly maintained brakes.”
To combat this problem, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires strict maintenance requirements and a stringent standard for brake system inspections in trucks. If a truck driver or truck carrier does not follow the DOT guidelines, they may be liable for accidents that result.
What causes brake problems in trucks?
In honor of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s “Brake Safety Week,” which ran from August 22nd through August 26th this year, we wanted to take a look at some of the most common causes of brake-related issues for trucks. Per Heavy Duty Trucking (HDT), they include:
- Insufficient brake maintenance and/or inspection – Trucking companies are required to perform specific maintenance routines and to regularly inspect their trucks for braking deficiencies. Regular inspections are crucial to maintaining safe vehicles. According to HDT, about 13% of trucks have a maintenance-related brake issue at any given time. Cornerstone Mobile Service suggests, “All brakes need servicing at least once or twice every year. On the other hand, your truck’s brakes may wear out prematurely depending on the road conditions and your driving habits, needing constant brake service and inspection to keep them in top performance.”
- Depowering or not using front brakes – To save money, as well as wear and tear on brakes, some truck drivers and trucking companies depower or disconnect front brakes and rely only on the trailer’s brakes. This weakens the truck’s ability to slow down and stop, increasing risk for catastrophic accidents.
- Overused or glazed brakes – Brakes become glazed when they are overheated or overused. Resins and brake material melt, and brakes become soft and more susceptible to damage, resulting in brake malfunction or failure.
- Faulty brakes – A manufacturing or design defect can leave brakes more susceptible to wear and tear or breakage. Even if the brakes were fine off the line, however, they can develop defects with use. HDT reports that defective/inoperative brakes were one of the five most common brake violations in 2021.
- Improper loading – If cargo is not loaded correctly, the brakes can overheat and fail. Consistently loading cargo improperly may lead to glazed brakes, increasing risk of brake failure. When a truck is overloaded, it may be pulling too much weight which puts extra stress on the brake system and may cause the brakes to overheat and not work properly. This can create dangerous situations especially if the truck must stop quickly.
- Imbalance of brakes – Brake imbalance may happen when mismatched components are used in truck repair and maintenance. Mismatched parts may lead to some brakes working harder than others, or more air pressure being applied to some brakes than others. This may cause brakes to malfunction, increasing risk of accidents.
- Overheating of brakes when driving downhill – Improper braking techniques while driving downhill can cause brakes to weaken. When this happens, brakes may fail to work, and drivers may not be able to slow down while traveling downhill.
In addition to the braking capabilities of trucks and the distance needed to stop, the types of brakes on cars and trucks work differently. Most passenger cars are equipped with hydraulic brakes which tend to stop quickly. Most trucks are equipped with air brakes, which have lag time before coming to a complete stop. This lag time adds to the accident risk, especially when brakes are not maintained properly or if the driver is driving dangerously.
A Mississippi truck accident due to failed brakes can be a devastating event, causing injury and even death for nearby motorists. Truck drivers and carriers are legally required to upkeep their braking systems to avoid these disastrous incidents on our roadways. Regular maintenance and inspections by certified and credentialed mechanics are essential to ensure brakes are working properly and will be able to perform, when necessary, whether a trucker is careening down a steep hill, or needs to come to an abrupt stop to avoid a multi-vehicle crash. Lack of maintenance or proper inspection is negligence on the part of a truck driver and/or the trucking company.
If you have been involved in a truck crash in Mississippi and have been injured or lost a loved one due to brake failure of a big rig, you may be able to receive damages for your pain and suffering. Call Merkel & Cocke, P.A., today to discuss your legal options after a crash with an 18-wheeler. Our experienced Mississippi truck accident attorneys are ready to listen to your story. We service clients throughout Mississippi, including Jackson, Clarksdale, Greenville, and Oxford, and across the Gulf Coast region. Call our office at 662-627-9641 or complete our contact form to schedule your free consultation.
After graduating from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975, Mr. Cocke and Mr. Merkel established Merkel & Cocke, P.A. in 1982. Since that time the emphasis of Mr. Cocke’s practice has progressed toward medical malpractice. At the present time his practice is exclusively devoted to handling medical negligence cases for the plaintiff, either as a result of direct contact by the client or on referral from other attorneys who are not familiar with the handling of medical negligence cases. Mr. Cocke was selected Best Lawyer of the year for 2012 and 2014 in The Memphis area in the field of Medical Malpractice and has been selected a Best Lawyer and Super Lawyer every year since 2006. Learn more about John Hartwell Cocke here.