What Can Make Semi-Truck Brakes Fail?

For most people in Oregon, driving a car is an absolute necessity. In many cases, there really isn’t a reasonable alternative. But each time we get behind the wheel, we understand that there are risks. To manage them, it is imperative that we remain alert, avoid distractions, and drive carefully. Moreover, we count on our car, its tires, and other systems to perform as expected.

But we also must rely on other drivers to act reasonably and for their equipment to function properly. Otherwise, an accident can result regardless of how carefully we behave. One fear that many drivers justifiably share when they encounter semi-trucks is that the truck will lose control and cause an accident. Admittedly, few things seem scarier than an 18-wheeler speeding down the road or coming up behind us with impaired brakes.

Unfortunately, it actually happens. In this article, we will examine issues that sometimes cause semi-truck braking failures.

Common Braking Issues with Semi-Trucks

Commercial trucks have accidents for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it’s driver error, and sometimes it’s equipment failure. Often, there are combinations of reasons. In one study, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) identified brake problems as a top “associated factor” in causing large truck crashes. While experts state that it is rare for big trucks to lose all braking, problems with braking clearly can result in crashes. Below are some of the issues that occur.

  • Imbalanced Brakes - Truck braking systems are more complex than automobile braking systems. It is important that brakes have both torque balance and pneumatic balance. Keep in mind that there are brakes on the tractor (the part of the truck that pulls the trailer) and brakes on the trailer. These brakes need to work together properly. Secondly, the brakes on the right side of the tractor-trailer need to work hand in hand with the brakes on the left side of the tractor-trailer. If the brakes throughout the system are not balanced properly, the vehicle can pull to one side or the other during braking. Problems can result, such as brake instability and fires, and can result in loss of control.
  • Improper Loading - In a prior article, we discussed the importance of loading trailers correctly and within appropriate weight limits. Loading too much weight can put additional strain on truck brakes. Additionally, loading a trailer incorrectly (even within the appropriate weight limit) can cause braking issues.
  • Improper Maintenance - Many braking issues can be remedied before an accident occurs. Unfortunately, many trucking companies do not adequately inspect and maintain the brakes and other systems. This is often the result of an attempt to save money. Moreover, even when brake maintenance is performed, it is sometimes done negligently.
  • Over-Braking - In some instances, drivers brake for too long of a period, which can cause a failure of the braking system. This primarily occurs on long down-hill grades. Excessive heat results if the manual brakes are depressed for too long. This can happen to less experienced drivers who fail to engage the truck’s other braking systems.
  • No Brake Problem - This entry may seem odd, but some experts believe that many supposed braking issues are actually driver issues. After a crash, a responsible truck driver may attempt to deflect responsibility by blaming the brakes or other truck systems.

Call with Questions

If you have suffered personal injuries as a result of the negligence of a truck driver or a trucking company, you are entitled to recover damages. However, evaluating truck accidents can sometimes be complicated, and it’s important to start as soon as possible. Otherwise, important evidence can be lost. At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, our experienced Oregon truck accident attorneys know exactly how to proceed and are here to answer your questions. The only way to improve safety for everyone is to hold accountable those who negligently cause harm.


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