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One in Six Semi Trucks on the Road Have Bad Brakes, According to Recent Surprise Roadside Inspections

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A day-long unannounced inspection event conducted across North America last May resulted in roughly one of every six or seven commercial trucks inspected being pulled from service for brake system violations. The Spring Brake Check, conducted by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) in conjunction with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), is part of an ongoing program of brake safety for the trucking industry known as Operation Airbrake.

The surprise inspections led to 9.2% of trucks found with excessive brake stroke violations and 8.5% placed out-of-service (OOS) for brake component violations. Excessive brake stroke violations come from the brakes being out of adjustment, while brake component violations include failures such as missing or cracked drums, rotors and other brake components, damaged tubing and brake hoses, and air leaks. Some trucks were found with both brake component violations and excessive brake stroke violations. Overall, 15.2%, or one out of every 6.6 trucks inspected, had to be pulled from service due to unsafe brakes. If this small sample is indicative of the situation nationwide, thousands of trucks on the road right now should be placed out of service until their brake systems can be properly adjusted or repaired.

Manually adjusted brakes are obviously more difficult to adjust than self-adjusting brakes, and indeed the rate of brake stroke violations for manually adjusted brakes were twice as high as those with self-adjusting brakes. Self-adjusting brake adjusters have been required on all commercial vehicles manufactured since October 20, 1994, but there are still many thousands of semis on the road with brake adjusters which must be adjusted manually.

Other items were also inspected during Spring Brake Check incidental to the brake inspections, such as driver’s license, registration, and tractor protection system. In addition to the 15.2% of trucks placed OOS for brake violations, another 9.2% – or nearly one in ten – were pulled from service for other issues.

About four times as many trucks were recently inspected during Brake Safety Week in September, but the results of these pre-announced inspections have not yet been released. Hopefully, the surprise inspections in May sounded a wake-up call to the trucking industry to get their fleets in order for Brake Safety Week, increasing truck safety and decreasing catastrophic truck accidents in North America.

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