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Brake Failure is a Common Cause of Tractor-Trailer Accidents

A tanker truck on a wet road tries to brake to avoid a rear-end accident with a smaller car.

Every day, drivers in Metro Atlanta share roads and highways with tractor-trailers. These giants of the highway are an important part of our economy, transporting goods day and night across the nation.

However, there's a hidden danger that can strike at any moment—semi-truck brake failure. The consequences of failed brakes on an 18-wheeler can be catastrophic.

A single truck accident can cause widespread damage, injuries, and fatalities. That's because tractor-trailers are 20 to 30 times larger than smaller passenger cars.

How many tractor-trailers experience brake failure?

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance's (CVSA) Brake Safety Week occurred from August 20-26, and it recently released its 2023 results. Inspectors across Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. examined 18,875 commercial vehicles.

The initiative focused on looking for violations that affected brake systems. Roughly 87.4% of the inspected vehicles were found to be compliant.

Of all the commercial vehicles checked, 2,375 (12.6%) were taken off the roads due to brake violations. The violations found on these trucks included:

  • Broken brake drums.
  • Loose air tanks.
  • Corroded holes in the spring brake housing.
  • Malfunctioning tractor protection valves.

Additionally, cracked linings, loose chambers, and poor brake adjustments accounted for the 20% brake criterion. Out of the 2,375 vehicles that were taken out of service:

  • 295 (12.4%) had problems with the brakes on the steering axle.
  • For 1,127 (47.5%) vehicles, the brakes were not working properly on their own.
  • Additionally, 1,394 (58.7%) vehicles did not meet the requirement of having less than 20% defective brakes.

Inspectors focused on violations related to lining and pads. They found contamination, cracks, and worn linings. That also included loose, missing, or bad brake pads. Inspectors found these violations in 379 power units and 261 towed units.

How are brake failure inspections being carried out state by state?

Additionally, 11 states incorporated performance-based brake testers (PBBTs) into their inspection processes. Out of 397 PBBT inspections, 18 resulted in failures, leading to a 4.5% out-of-service rate.

Ninety-five commercial vehicles passed the U.S. federal regulations and the North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria. These vehicles exceeded the required 43.5% braking efficiency threshold.

If a vehicle falls below this threshold, it's deemed unfit as it lacks the necessary stopping power and requires immediate servicing.

A PBBT is a specialized machine that measures brake forces at individual wheel ends, axles, or entire vehicles. They can gauge a vehicle's overall braking capability via a stopping performance test.

This test considers deceleration and stopping distances, regardless of brake type or application method.

The outcomes of a PBBT test are generally more reliable than visual inspections when assessing brake performance. A "failed" PBBT test typically indicates:

  • Vehicle or axle overload.
  • Mechanical problems such as pushrod travel or missing components.
  • Air system malfunctions.
  • Degraded or inadequate brake linings.

Understanding the dangers of truck brake failure

If an 18-wheeler experiences brake failure, it poses a serious risk to all road users. Some of the most common dangers include:

  • Increased stopping distance: Failed brakes compromise a commercial vehicle's ability to slow down or come to a stop. This significantly increases the stopping distance.
  • Reduced control: Brake problems can result in the driver losing control of the truck. The trucker may struggle to steer the vehicle effectively, which can lead to swerving, weaving, or other erratic movements.
  • Rollovers: Tractor-trailers with brake issues may be more prone to rollovers, especially when carrying heavy loads or traveling at high speeds.
  • Rear-end truck accidents: Inadequate braking capabilities can lead to rear-end collisions with other vehicles, particularly when the semi-truck cannot slow down or stop in time to avoid hitting a slower-moving or stationary vehicle ahead.
  • Side-swiping accidents: Brake failure can cause trucks to collide with adjacent vehicles while attempting to maneuver or avoid collisions.
  • Runaway trucks: A truck can become a "runaway" and continue to gain speed due to severe brake problems. Runaway trucks are difficult to bring under control.
  • Jackknife accidents: Loss of control can also lead to a jackknife truck accident. This occurs when a truck's trailer swings out to the side, forming an L-shape with the cab.

Why you need an attorney after a truck accident

An accident with a tractor-trailer can be a traumatic experience that results in catastrophic injury or death. Unfortunately, trucking companies will often go to great lengths to cover up negligence.

That's because the stakes are typically high in claims involving trucking companies, and their insurers know it. As such, they will use a variety of tactics to reduce or deny liability, even if that comes at the expense of crash victims and their families.

If you or someone you love was injured in a truck accident, you need an experienced attorney who can investigate negligent trucking companies and help you level the playing field.

At the Law Offices of Gary Martin Hays & Associates, P.C., our Atlanta truck accident lawyers know how to find the facts that matter, build strong cases, and fight for the accountability crash victims deserve.

To learn how we can help with your potential legal case, contact us today for a free consultation.

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