Top 10 Reasons why brakes fail in the mountains (but may not fail otherwise).
1. Human error – failure to pay attention, failure to properly gauge distances and apply the brakes in time, slamming on the breaks leading to skidding and loss of control
2. “Hot brakes” or Overheating – Hot brakes and wheel bearings can come about from dragging brakes that result in friction and abnormal brake temperatures, as well as wheel grease fires that spread to the tires. If the brakes significantly overheat they can lose functionality.
3. Overloaded trailer – A truck pulling too much weight requires excessive braking distances even when using brakes in good condition. This endangers the public safety, especially in situations demanding hard braking. Overloaded trailers place extra stress on the braking system which may fail especially when they are poorly maintained.
4. Defective brakes/parts/product liability – obviously in rare circumstances you will see manufacturing or design defects in brake systems.
5. Brake imbalance – Brake imbalance occurs when some brakes work harder than others or there is more “torque” that is being created over certain brake components or areas than others. This may be caused by using mismatched mechanical components or when the pneumatic system applies more air pressure to some brakes than others. This uneven distribution may cause some of the brakes to lock up and lead to skidding and jackknifing. A brake imbalance can also cause some brakes to overheat when going downhill.
6. Inadequate brake maintenance – While some trucking companies diligently keep up with their maintenance, some do not and are not caught in time by a DOT brake inspection to prevent a deadly truck accident. Braking deficiencies will sometimes allow the truck to brake in ordinary circumstances but not when hard braking is required in an emergency.
7. Brake fade – Refers to “reduction in stopping power that can occur after repeated or sustained application of the brakes, especially in high load or high speed conditions.” i.e. over-application of the brakes over a prolonged period of time.
8. Friction fade – Which is a reduction of friction between the brake pad and drum or rotor. Friction fade can occur if the brake parts were not properly produced, the pads do not correctly fit the drums/rotors because they are twisted or poorly remanufactured, the drums/rotors are not resurfaced often enough, or the pads are not frequently replaced.
9. Mechanical Fade – Brake drums may experience a condition where the heat generated by friction causes the drum to actually expand outward, increasing its diameter. If the drum increases enough, the brake pad can lose effectiveness since it cannot create the proper friction to slow the vehicle enough to prevent it from losing control.
10. Fluid Fade – This occurs when the friction generated by the brakes causes the fluid within the system to boil and then vaporize. Hydraulic braking systems, which is what most tractor trailers have, require fluid to activate the pads when the pedal is pushed. The hydraulics will not work effectively if the fluid is in a gaseous state.
What kind of maintenance needs to be performed on your brakes?
CFR Regulation 396.3(a) requires that all motor carriers “systematically inspect, repair, and maintain… all motor vehicles subject to its control.” It also provides that all “parts and accessories must be in safe and proper condition at all times.’
FMCSA regulations also have detailed rules about who is permitted to perform brake maintenance, testing, and repair. The carrier has a responsibility to makes sure only qualified people work on the brakes. This means folks who have completed a State, Canadian province, Federal agency, or union training program, a State-approved training program, training that led to attainment of a State or Canadian Province qualifying certificate to perform assigned brake service or inspection tasks, including passage of CDL air brake test in the case of a brake inspection, or one year of brake-related training, experience, or combination of both.
FMCSA regulations state that “[n]o commercial motor vehicle shall be driven unless the driver is satisfied that… [the vehicle’s] parts and accessories are in good working order,” including the brake system(s). (49 CFR 392.7)
49 CFR 392.9 also requires that a truck driver inspect his or her truck and cargo:
>Within the first 50 miles of a trip,
>Whenever the driver changes duty status, and
>When he drives more than three hours or 150 miles.
Drivers are also required to complete a post-trip inspection and to file a “driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs)” outlining any issues that were found and whether/how they were handled or repaired. (49 CFR 396.11)
The DOT has published guidelines for carriers on how drivers should conduct their pre-trip inspections. Obviously, most of not all carriers will have their own internal requirements for the
Choices (along the way/route; truck ramps)
Safety experts agree that one of the key components of safe trucking is mapping out safe, trusted routes well in advance and sticking to the plan. Traveling in certain mountainous regions or stretches of the road where there are sharp inclines, heavy traffic, or other geographical features can obviously be hazardous.
For truckers who find themselves traveling across precarious stretches of the road, runaway truck ramps are designed as a kind of last-resort option to prevent a heavy truck picking up too much speed and from losing control. There are about 170 runaway truck ramps in the US, mostly in western states like Colorado. The first truck ramps were constructed in the 1960s. In Colorado, the truck ramps are made up of gravel, sand piles or gravity escape, where a truck can essentially go uphill until the driver can regain control.
Insurance: MCS 90 – excess policies – personal policies – UIM
The Federal Motor Carrier Act of 1980 placed a number of requirements on interstate truckers at the same time it led to widespread deregulation of the industry. One of these requirements involved proof of financial responsibility. To ensure the safety of the public against damage caused by motor carriers who may not have the liquidity to pay resulting claims, the law requires that motor carriers be able to demonstrate the ability to pay any claims up to a statutory minimum.
In practice, this has resulted in the MCS-90 endorsement. The MCS-90 endorsement attaches to an insurance policy issued to a motor carrier by a standard insurance company. The endorsement constitutes proof that the motor carrier has met the financial requirements of the federal regulations for motor carriers. Through the endorsement, regulators can ensure that sufficient funds exist to meet a defined minimum for paying out a claim on an accident caused by a motor carrier.
Federal regulations set forth the minimum amount of financial responsibility coverage an interstate motor carrier must maintain: (1) at least $750,000 for vehicles transporting non hazardous cargo; (2) $1 million for those transporting oil and certain hazardous substances; and (3) $5 million for other hazardous substances and radioactive materials.
An interstate motor carrier can establish proof of financial responsibility in one of three ways: (1) an MCS-90 endorsement; (2) a surety bond; or (3) self-insurance. Most interstate trucking companies obtain the MCS-90 endorsement, which was designed to eliminate the possibility of a coverage denial based on limiting provisions in the policy.
This is key to understanding application of the MCS-90, which is a safety net in the event other insurance is lacking.” The Tenth Circuit has explained that “an MCS-90 insurer’s duty to pay a judgment arises not from any insurance obligation, but from the endorsement’s language guaranteeing a source of recovery in the event the motor carrier negligently injures a member of the public on the highways.”
Accordingly, the surety obligation of the MCS-90 endorsement is “one that is triggered only when (1) the underlying insurance policy to which the endorsement is attached does not otherwise provide coverage, and (2) either no other insurer is available to satisfy the judgment against the motor carrier, or the motor carrier’s insurance coverage is insufficient to satisfy the federally-prescribed minimum levels of financial responsibility.”