Trucking Industry

Brake Safety Week is Here – Are Your Brakes in Good Condition? 

It’s CVSA Brake Safety Week, and that means it’s time to double or even triple check your brakes to ensure you’re in compliance.   

We spoke with Bill Burke, Rick Koontz, Janis MacWilliam, and Rob Nichols, former law enforcement officers to get a better understanding of why there is an annual safety event dedicated to brakes, what to expect on the road during Brake Safety Week, and tips for how to better maintain brakes. Combined, these four experts served more than 100+ years in law enforcement and now work with Drivewyze and Intelligent Imaging Systems in various roles. 

Why does the CVSA dedicate an entire week to inspecting brakes? 

Bill: Brakes are the only component preventing a truck from losing control in its ability to stop. And despite everyone’s understanding of that, brakes are always the leading vehicle out-of-service (OOS) condition during CVSA’s safety events as well as during normal inspections. In fact, the CVSA recently announced statistics from its Brake Safety Day in May and found more than 12% of the more than 10,000 commercial vehicles that were inspected were placed OOS for brake-related vehicle inspection items. 

That’s just one example that highlights the issue. Those numbers are fairly consistent across the board for what enforcement reports on a regular basis. What’s more concerning is the fact that brakes are consistently the No. 1 cause for crashes involving component failure. It’s a serious concern, and it’s why there are events like Brake Safety Week to remind fleets and drivers to properly inspect and maintain their brakes and to hold those running with defective components accountable.  

If everyone knows how critical brakes are, why are brakes consistently the No.1 OOS vehicle component? 

Rick: It really boils down to a shortfall in regular maintenance. There’s growing pressure on fleets and drivers from brokers to complete deliveries as quickly as possible, and that certainly doesn’t help, but forgoing proper critical component inspections shouldn’t come at the expense to save a little bit of time. Or for a fleet or owner-operator to not maintain regular maintenance schedules of those parts. There are several components in a brake system that can lead to an OOS violation, — brake pads wearing too thin, hose chaffing, out-of-adjustment brake, slack adjuster failure, etc. – but regular inspections and maintenance can prevent that from happening.  

Bill: One thing I noticed in my time in law enforcement – and I’m sure many others who’ve inspected commercial vehicles can agree – is that new drivers entering the industry don’t have the experience on what to look for when inspecting critical components like brakes, or how to fix something that can be dealt with on the road. And they don’t always take the extra step during a pre-trip inspection to get underneath a truck or trailer, especially when the weather is bad. Owner-operators and experienced drivers on the other hand generally possess a set of skills that allow them to better identify problem areas with their truck or trailer and how to service it.  

Rob: Going off that point, even if a driver recently thoroughly inspected their vehicle and knows that their truck is in good shape, we’ve noticed that with fleets that run a drop and hook operation, inspection of trailers sometimes falls behind. Some companies have thousands of trailers spread throughout North America, so tracking and ensuring those trailers receive proper attention can be overlooked. Brake trailer-related issues is a growing area of concern.  

What pieces of advice would you offer for fleets and drives to prepare for Brake Safety Week and to better maintain brakes? 

Rick: Since drivers are in their trucks almost every day, it’s up to them to report anything that appears to be ‘off’ for any component to the company when they’re on the road. The driver trip inspection clearly outlines the components a driver is responsible for as well as load security.  Even though drivers may not have the authority to have maintenance performed on the company vehicles without permission, their names will be on the citations and OOS inspections if caught in an unsafe vehicle. Drivers – especially those new to the industry – need proper training on what to look for when inspecting brakes and other critical components, and how to resolve the issue in the field if it’s something they’re equipped to fix. If a driver doesn’t know what to look for, or does, but doesn’t take the time to inspect brakes on a regular basis during pre-trip inspections, that’s a problem.  

It’s also in drivers’ best interest to know when the last service date of the trailer they’re hauling was. On the fleet side, a driver needs to be supported by the company with regular maintenance schedules so that they’re not set up for failure.  

With Brake Safety Week, fleets have plenty of notice to resolve any issues they might find with their brakes ahead of time. The point of events like this is to bring awareness to the importance of maintaining brakes and to keep an eye out on these components regularly, not just during planned safety events. 

Bill: Outside of inspections, one easy thing a driver can do before they leave for a day’s trip is to drive in reverse slowly and pump their brakes. Doing that helps tighten the slack adjuster, which can help prevent brake-related issues from occurring.  

Janis: To go off on what Rick said, I recall one time during a Level 1 inspection I noticed a drivers’ trailer brakes were over the manufacturer’s specifications. Collectively, the brake defects put the trailer out of service. Because we were in a remote location, the drivers asked if he could adjust the brakes himself. I agreed and explained that I would re-measure the brake push rod travel to ensure it was within the manufacturer’s specifications. After the second inspection, I noticed that the driver had actually backed the brakes off even further from what I had originally measured. Fortunately, we stopped that vehicle from leaving the station. I have no doubt he would have been involved in a collision due to brake failure. Proper training to identify and resolve the issue could’ve prevented this situation. 

What should a driver expect when they pull into a weigh station and are selected to be inspected? 

Rick: Every state and province varies in the levels of inspection they will perform during Brake Safety Week. Some states will perform “Level 4” inspections, which is an ‘unofficial’ inspection that takes place during safety events like this. Under a Level 4 inspection, CVSA-certified inspectors will take a look at a specific component, so in this case, they will examine brakes. Other states will conduct a full Level 1 inspection, but with a particular emphasis on inspecting brakes. 

Bill: Like other safety events, states and provinces typically dedicate more resources during Brake Safety Week, meaning more officers will be available to conduct inspections. And if an officer identifies an issue with a brake, another component, or with the driver, the officer will likely request more information or look at other components more closely.  

Related Reading: Drivewyze is changing the game with its latest service, e-Inspections. Click to learn more. 

How has technology improved brakes for drivers and assisted law enforcement when inspecting vehicles? 

Janis: When I entered law enforcement in 1995, nearly 50% of the trucks we inspected in Ontario received OOS violations for brakes. Since then, automatic slack adjusters became a requirement for trucks and the quality of brake components improved, which has helped bring the number of OOS vehicles due to brake-related issues down substantially. 

Rob: On the enforcement side, technology has improved tremendously to help officers inspect vehicles more efficiently. During my time serving with the Maine State Police, we used thermal imaging inspections systems which helped officers identify critical component failures. Its cutting-edge technology developed by Intelligent Imaging Systems (IIS). With the thermal inspection system, images of vehicle components, such as brakes, would be taken as trucks came through weigh stations. The images capture each wheel set on each axle, and with those images, officers can see whether or not brakes are emitting heat. If we identified a brake that wasn’t emitting any heat or very little, we knew there was something significantly wrong with that brake, and we would notify the driver for further inspection. It helped us focus our attention on inspecting vehicles that truly do need inspecting. 

It takes a collaborated effort between drivers and the service team to ensure brakes are in proper condition. As critical as a component as brakes are, it’s important to stay on top of service schedules and assist drivers when they report an issue with their brakes. After all, they’re the only component allowing drivers to fully control their vehicle.