Is Brake Failure a Common Cause of Truck Accidents?

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Brakes make any vehicle safer to drive and enable controlled stops. Big rigs and other commercial trucks are especially dependent on brakes for safety because of their relatively enormous size and weight.

Brake failure is the primary cause of or a significant factor in about 30 percent of all commercial truck accidents. The 30 percent figure is much higher than the percentage of private passenger vehicles that wind up in car accidents because of bad brakes.

The nature of truck brakes is significantly different than on cars and similar vehicles. Commercial trucks have air brakes that use pressure created by an air compressor to deliver the stopping power to the brakes.

Hydraulic brakes do not work on big rigs, so air brakes are necessary. Although a passenger car with bad brakes still might be able to stop because of hydraulic pressure, the air brakes of a truck will not work at all without sufficient air pressure.

Air Brakes that Fail May Create Significant Dangers

Overuse of air brakes or a leaking line could cause the system to lose air pressure faster than the compressed air could replace it. A commercial truck that weighs up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded becomes very dangerous when it has no brakes.

If you ever drive down a long and relatively steep downhill section of roadway, that is why many of them have runaway truck lanes alongside that are loaded with pea gravel to slow down and stop the truck.

Steep mountain roadways with lots of twisting curves are especially hard on any type of braking system. Truck drivers should do their best to stay in a low gear while traveling downhill to keep the vehicle under control and save the brakes.

So should anyone driving any type of vehicle. Continually braking while traveling down long stretches of steep and twisting mountain roads can overheat the brakes and cause them to fail.

Commercial Trucks Can Inflict Severe Damage and Injuries

It should not surprise you that a tractor-trailer or another type of commercial truck generally inflicts more damage onto most other vehicles than it takes in an accident. That is especially true when a commercial truck and a private passenger vehicle collide.

A fully loaded tractor-trailer could weigh up to 80,000 pounds, compared with about 4,000 pounds and sometimes less for a typical private passenger vehicle. The truck also is much taller and has a significantly higher center of gravity.

In 2005, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported commercial trucks on average inflict more than $195,000 in injury costs during accidents that cause personal injury to passengers. Fatality accidents with commercial trucks carry an average cost that exceeds three million dollars.

Those sums are in 2005 dollars. It is safe to say that they are much higher now when accounting for inflation and other cost increases.

Physics ensures that a taller and heavier object will overpower a smaller and lighter one. The taller center of gravity and much greater weight of a commercial truck generally means it can inflict heavy damage on the passenger cabins of most cars and other private passenger vehicles.

The passive safety systems on a typical private passenger vehicle generally are overwhelmed by the momentum of a heavier and taller truck with a high center of gravity.

How to Preserve Braking Power on Commercial Trucks

Drivers of commercial trucks can preserve their brakes the same way drivers of private passenger vehicles can preserve theirs. It starts with proper maintenance and repairs when needed.

Brakes need good brake pads or brake shoes, calipers, and rotors to provide good stopping power. The air brakes on commercial trucks are different from hydraulic systems and have a bit more to check.

The truck itself needs to have a functioning air compressor and lines that are not damaged and leaking air. The trailers that are part of the commercial tractor-trailer setup also need to have good brakes. Without them, the rig is more prone to jackknifing and would need even greater distances to cover before coming to a safe stop.

Drivers need to use the brakes only when stopping and slowing down for curves, turns, and slow traffic. Riding the brakes when traveling downhill heats up the brakes and could cause a catastrophic failure that eliminates all braking power.

Downshifting to a gear that will enable the truck to roll at a safe speed will eliminate the need to slow down on steep downhill sections of roads. Even motorists in private passenger vehicles should downshift to a suitable gear to maintain a constant and safe pace.

Duty of Care to Ensure Trucks Are Safe

A truck driver is responsible for checking the vehicle and trailer to ensure they are safe to drive before taking the rig out on the roadway. That responsibility includes ensuring the brakes are in good shape and will do their job.

When the brakes fail while driving a commercial truck, the driver and owner of the commercial rig could be liable for damages for violating the duty of care. Any negligence in maintaining the vehicle could show that the driver, owner, and possibly other parties violated the duty of care to keep the truck in reasonably safe condition.

If an owner or operator of a commercial truck neglected to maintain it and made a driver put a dangerous vehicle on the road, the owner or operator could be found liable for medical costs and other damages.

A truck driver who did not inspect the truck prior to driving it or who negligently rode the brakes while going downhill also could be liable for any harm caused to others. A commercial truck insurance policy should cover such damages up to policy limits.

An experienced truck accident lawyer can help you to show how a truck driver or trucking company violated the duty of care and put a potentially dangerous truck onto the road.

Potential Third-Party Liability for Defective Brakes

An experienced attorney also can help you to identify all liable parties for a truck accident caused by bad brakes or other mechanical defects. A commercial truck could have several liable parties, ranging from owners and drivers to mechanics and the manufacturers of defective parts.

Third-party liability might extend to the provider of mechanical services for a truck with defective brakes. If any maintenance or repairs were ignored or performed improperly, that might make that third party partly liable for damages.

A defective brake part also might result in third-party liability for the manufacturer, distributor, and retailer or wholesaler of that part. A truck accident lawyer could help to identify all potential third parties that might be liable for claims arising from an accident with a truck that has defective brakes.

How Drivers Can Avoid Accidents with Trucks

It is important to pay attention to commercial trucks and other vehicles that might be near you. When a truck is near you, it is wise to give it more room than you would another vehicle.

Unfortunately, many drivers make the mistake of pulling in front of a truck and cutting off its safe stopping distance. Instead, you should ensure a commercial truck has more space to stop safely.

Most people encounter tractor-trailers on highways or freeways, which is where most truck accidents happen. If you are on a state or federal highway that has stops, pulling in front of a semi or another large truck and then stopping right away almost certainly would cause an accident.

You also should not drive alongside a truck while positioned in its blind spot. A truck driver often just has side mirrors to see whether a vehicle is alongside it. A truck driver who is changing lanes might not see your vehicle if it is in the driver’s blind spot. These blind spots are called “no zones” for a reason.

Some basic precautions can help you to prevent accidents happening with commercial trucks. If those precautions fail, an experienced truck accident lawyer could help you to build a strong case.


Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help Clients Hold Liable Parties Accountable

If you recently were involved in an accident with a truck, you need seasoned legal assistance. The Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton can help you to present the best case and strongest claims. We will investigate the cause of the accident and fight to secure the compensation for which you are entitled. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

We have offices in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, allowing us to represent clients in Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.