Commercial trucks are substantially heavier than smaller passenger vehicles, so it takes an advanced braking system and an experienced driver to see them safely down steep hills. Too often, though, some semi-truckers rely too much on their air brake systems when driving downhill, even though doing so can cause the brakes to overheat, which, in turn, can lead to wrecks.
While Transport Topics reports that a truck driver who relies too much on the brake system can cause otherwise-avoidable brake failure issues, other types of problems can arise within air brake systems that compromise the safety of everyone on the roadway.
A 2006 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration showed that brake failure is a factor in about 30% of all truck crashes, making it the most common equipment-related cause of modern truck wrecks. Driver error also played a role in about 87% of truck wrecks. In some cases, brake failure issues and driver errors overlapped.
Some safety advocates and trucking industry authorities believe that over-relying on a truck’s brake system happens more often when a truck driver lacks experience or training. Typically, truck drivers who have been doing the job for a long time know that there are other things they can do, such as using a lower gear or tapping the brakes for only about three seconds at a time, to help slow a truck. Inexperienced drivers are more likely to panic and brake for extended periods, which can make brakes overheat and, in some instances, catch fire.
Trucking companies can help limit how much of a danger their drivers pose to the rest of the motoring public by making sure they undergo extensive training before allowing them to get out on the road. They can also improve safety for everyone by making sure their drivers know they can do more than ride their brakes to slow their vehicles when driving down hills.