Everyone has seen a horrible trucking accident on the news or, even worse, in person. But what causes those accidents? Some people find it surprising to learn that brake-related issues are responsible for just over 29 percent of all large truck crashes. According to the Department of Transportation, these accidents can be caused by brakes that are out of adjustment, brake failure, and other brake issues.

Why Big Rig Brakes Fail

1.Brake Depowering

Replacing brakes and tires on a rig can be incredibly expensive. In order to alleviate these costs, some trucker drivers, particularly those who own their own trucks, depower the front brakes. The trucker then relies on the trailer’s brakes and the act of down-shifting to slow and stop the truck. Though this saves the trucker money on replacement costs, it can be a dangerous way to operate such a large vehicle.

2.No Pre-Trip Inspection

Not only do trucking companies have to keep maintenance logs for every vehicle in their fleet, but they must perform daily pre-trip inspections. These inspections are to include the checking of brake shoes, listening for air leaks within the braking chamber, and looking for loose brake components. When drivers and owners fail to inspect vehicles, every person on the road is put at risk.

3.Improper Loading

Improper Loading

It doesn’t seem as though the way a trailer is loaded would have an effect on the way brakes perform, but it does. An unbalanced load can place more work on the brakes, particularly those in the front of the vehicle. This overtaxing of the brakes can cause them to overheat and, ultimately, malfunction. Truckers are encouraged to always load their trailers carefully and in a balanced way. Doing so can help to not only prevent accidents, but prevent expensive wear on the front brakes.

4.Faulty Brakes

Just like those parts on personal vehicles, some truck components are poorly put together during the manufacturing process. This is true of truck brakes. Brakes are made to specific federal standards and, at times, these standards are not met. Truck brakes must have a certain braking force, meet brake adjustment system requirements, and allow the truck to decelerate from 20 MPH at a rate that is specific to the truck’s size. When brakes fail to meet these standards, disastrous results can occur.


Tire failures

Though faulty brakes are a leading cause of accidents, it would be remiss to not include a brief description of the ways that tires can come into play with regards to trucking accidents. Just as brakes can be defective, tires are not without issue. Tires on semis must meet DOT requirements, be mounted properly and be inspected regularly. Like brakes, tires are one of the most important components on a rig when it comes to safety.

Brake malfunction is the leading cause of accidents in the trucking industry. Whether you are a driver or an owner-operator, it’s important that you maintain a properly-working braking system on your rig. Your safety and the safety of those you share the highway with is at stake.

Dan Nielson blogs about highway safety and has seen firsthand how important properly working trailer brakes are to a big rig.