If we are really serious about safety, we have to make big improvements in brake adjustment and maintenance. Just because our slack adjusters are called “self adjusting” doesn’t mean they always work. In fact, we know that they fail to work quite often. During the 2015 CVSA road check program, brake system problems accounted for 27.5 percent of out-of-service violations and brakes out of adjustment totaled 15.5 percent of out-of-service violations. That makes brakes the No. 1 and No. 2 out-of-service violations.
Brakes are the single-most important safety system on the vehicle and there is absolutely no reason to have this many OOS violations. We need better training and education, but there are also products on the market that would make a huge dent in these numbers. My favorite is the BrakeSafe and ArrowLogger. It’s a simple bolt on device that gives you a quick visual indicator of brake stroke adjustment and will also quickly diagnose many brake system problems.
I’d love to think that the OEMs would adopt this technology and make it standard, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. One day we will have all air disk brakes and won’t need to worry about brake stroke, but that day is still off in the distant future. Right now, we need better education and training.
When it comes to drivers, we have two extremes: old-school experienced drivers who think they should manually adjust the brakes when the slack adjusters fail (this is a no-no), and new, inexperienced drivers who believe they never need to check brake stroke adjustment because of automatic slack adjusters. Both types of drivers are the cause of the high number of OOS violations pertaining to brakes and brake adjustments.
Before every trip, drivers should release the parking brake and then give the brake pedal five full-pressure, brake applications. If the slack adjusters are working properly, and the brakes are fully functional, this will bring the brake stroke within legal limits. Then the driver should measure brake stroke to ensure proper adjustment.
I talk to drivers every day that have no idea how to perform this procedure. That needs to be addressed in our training programs from the schools to the fleets. We all need a “brake.” STOP the madness.
Kevin Rutherford is a business trainer, author of national articles on trucking and finance, small fleet owner and tax preparer and radio host of Trucking Business & Beyond on satellite radio. Kevin’s down-to-earth ability to communicate to the professional driver with knowledge, experience and statistics, makes the show the only one of its kind dedicated to the success of the American professional driver.