The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s (CVSA) annual Operation Air Brake “Brake Safety Week” campaign conducted Sept. 11-17 this year revealed a mixed bag of results. Although the number of out-of-service (OOS) defects for both brake adjustment and brake components are down slightly, the overall OOS rate for brakes increased.

“In general, the numbers are going in the right direction: though overall OOS rates were up a little, the number of actual defects in each [brake] category went down,” Stephen Keppler, CVSA’s executive director, told Fleet Owner. “That’s a good sign.”

Overall, CVSA’s “Brake Safety Week” inspection blitz this year:

  • Inspected 30,872 vehicles, which exceeds the 2010 mark of 30,472 vehicles; the previous record for the number of inspections since the program started in 1998
  • Put 2,605 vehicles (8.4%) OOS for brake adjustment; down from 8.9% in 2010 and 9% in 2009
  • Placed 2,453 (or 7.9%) of vehicles OOS for brake components; down from 8% in 2010 and 9.2% in 2009
  • Put 4,385 (or 14.2%) of vehicles OOS for brakes overall, which is up from 13.5% in 2010 but down from 15.1% in 2009.

The OOS rates for Canada were again lower than in the U.S. for 2011, CVSA noted. This year, 8.7% of vehicles inspected in the U.S. during Brake Safety Week were placed OOS for poor brake adjustment, compared to 3.7% in Canada.

However, Canada witnessed a significant spike in OOS rates of its own, as “Brake Safety Week” inspections resulted in 7.3% of vehicles being placed out of service for brakes, compared to 4.4% in 2010.

Keppler said the “snapshot” of the industry’s rate of brake compliance attained by CVSA’s inspection effort is critical as brakes were cited in 29.4% of truck crashes as an associate factor in such wrecks; according to data gleaned from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Large Crash Causation study conducted in 2006.

“We would certainly like to see larger drops in the number of brake component OOS numbers, as well as for OOS rates for brakes overall,” he explained. “But we are definitely pleased that we are still seeing ‘systemic’ decreases, however small, rather than a fluctuation in the numbers.”

However, to really drive significant decreases in brake OOS rates – and OOS rates overall in the trucking business – will require a more integral shift in the industry’s “safety culture,” which will take time.

“It’s doubly difficult to get such a change to stick because the [profit] margins in this industry are just so thin,” Keppler pointed out. “There’s also reluctance to change because change breeds uncertainty. But the steady decrease in component OOS rates gives me confidence that the industry is making this ‘safety culture’ adjustment.”