“Brake safety week” is here

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We continue to see brakes as the most significant problem in the enforcement data, representing more than half of all out-of-service violations.” –Stephen F. Campbell, executive director, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance

The brake systems on commercial vehicles large and small are going to be a top focus of roadside inspections today through Sept. 19 as the annual “Operation Air Brake Campaign” sponsored by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) gets underway – part of the group’s “brake safety week” initiative to not only enforce standards but to especially educate industry personnel about the importance of proper brake maintenance.

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“Commercial vehicle brake systems, vital to these vehicles' safe operation, are complicated and contain many parts, all of which need constant inspection and attention to ensure proper operation and performance,” noted Stephen Campbell, CVSA’s executive director.

Started back in 2005, the CVSA’s “Operation Air Brake Campaign” is designed to reinforce the importance of keeping brakes in tip-top condition – something that’s not always the case. For example, brakes still comprised the largest percentage – some 52.5% – of out-of-service violations cited in roadside inspections during CVSA’s Roadcheck 2008 enforcements blitz.

One top of that, results from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) recent Large Truck Crash Causation Study indicated that brake problems were present at the time of the crash in nearly one-third of all cases.

“Brake Safety Week puts a spotlight on this issue,” noted CVSA’s Campbell. “It emphasizes both enforcement and education activities that attempt to improve knowledge and regulatory compliance, and ultimately to reduce crashes.”

Since its inception, CVSA said its “Operation Air Brake Campaign” has resulted in more than 2.2 commercial vehicle million brakes inspected, with a strong focus on brake adjustment. Of the brakes inspected in total to date, 8.9% of those equipped with manual brake adjusters were placed out of service, 3.9% of self-adjusting brake adjusters were placed out of service, and 17.1% of all vehicles inspected were placed out of service for a brake-related defect.

The tough economic climate exacerbates this issue, too, as brakes – along with other vehicle components – can suffer as truck owners of all sizes try to over-extend maintenance intervals in order to save desperately-needed cash.

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It’s an issue quite familiar to Master Trooper Eric Berge (seen here at left working the safety beat), a nearly 25-veteran of the Virginia State Police, whom I interviewed back in June during CVSA’s broader Roadcheck safety enforcement blitz.

Berge, who’s worked the motor carrier enforcement beat for almost 19 years, said that during tough economic times like these he starts to see some carriers let lots of things slide in terms of vehicle maintenance.

While they may think they are saving money, they are creating a bigger safety risk that could come back to haunt them down the road, he told me.

“You know, a guy will try and drive 10,000 extra miles on a set of tires. That saves him money, sure, but it increases the risk of a tire failure on the road,” he explained to me. “My job isn’t just to catch that, though; it’s to try and change the habits of the fleets and drivers – habits that create risks. You want to make sure the equipment gets fixed then and there, but you also want to make sure they don’t keep letting things go in the future.”

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