GREENBELT, Md. — The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) would like drivers to stop in for an inspection of their vehicle’s braking system. If you can stop, that is.
The CVSA will be conducting its annual Brake Safety Week Aug. 22-28. Inspectors will be conducting North American Standard Inspections of commercial motor vehicles, with a focus on braking systems and components. Just like the 2020 Brake Safety Week, the focus will once again be on brake hoses and tubing.
According to CVSA, “Brake system and brake adjustment violations accounted for more vehicle violations than any other vehicle violation category, accounting for 38.6% of all vehicle out-of-service (OOS) conditions, during last year’s three-day International Roadcheck inspection and enforcement initiative.”
The release noted that more than 5,200 of the 43,565 commercial vehicles inspected in the 2020 event were placed OOS for brake-related violations. That’s 12% of the total violations.
Inspection violations find their way onto the CSA records of both the carrier that owns the truck and the driver. In the driver’s case, those violations show up on the Pre-employment Screening Program (PSP) report that prospective employers may review. Each violation is assigned a score that some employers use in their driver hiring decisions.
Sadly, many of those failed brake inspections would have been preventable with just a little attention from the driver.
For example, violations such as “brake hose or tubing chafing or kinking under vehicle” (FMCSR 393.45(b)2) are generally easy to observe. When hoses rub together, wear (or “chafing”) occurs. A variety of springs and retention devices exist to keep hoses from rubbing together or coming into contact with catwalks, the ground or other objects. Those devices sometimes require attention or readjustment to make sure they’re still doing the job.
Hoses under the trailer are another culprit. As trailer tandems are slid back and forth, springs holding air lines off the ground can kink or become weakened. These lines aren’t as accessible; the driver may have to crawl under the trailer and may need a flashlight to inspect them properly. Picking up a preloaded trailer from a dark lot at a customer location doesn’t present a good opportunity for inspection, and drivers are often surprised when they find damage later — or when they fail an inspection.
During the 2020 inspection week, nearly 21% of hose or tube chafing violations were severe enough to earn an OOS order. Hoses must be worn completely through the first ply with damage to reinforcement fibers to warrant OOS.
Those violations are unfortunate, because it really isn’t difficult to check brake hoses. The hoses that connect the tractor and trailer are easily accessible. If the driver hooks up to different trailers, the hoses may be handled often. Light wear can occur relatively quickly and isn’t an OOS condition; it’s when the wear has been going on long enough to compromise the integrity of the hose that the condition becomes evident.
Because the brake lines are under pressure, any leaks usually produce an audible “hiss” that can be detected with a simple walk-around check. It’s never a bad idea to shut the truck off and walk around it when stopping for a rest break or other purpose.
A common violation that’s harder to keep up with is “clamp or roto brake out of adjustment.” Since 1994, new trucks and trailers have been required to have brakes that automatically adjust. Most drivers do not check the adjustment of their brakes — and wouldn’t know how to adjust them, anyway. Many carriers don’t allow their drivers to adjust brakes.
One OOS violation that drivers deal with is “BRAKES OUT OF SERVICE: The number of defective brakes is equal to or greater than 20% of the service brakes on the vehicle or combination” (FMCSR 393.53b). The math is pretty easy. A five-axle tractor-trailer combination has 10 brake assemblies, either drums, discs or something else. Each brake assembly that is out of adjustment represents 10% of the total, so it only takes two for the vehicle to be placed OOS.
There’s another issue with violations related to brakes that drivers should be aware of. Brakes that are out of adjustment often receive TWO violations for the same problem, one for being out of adjustment and a second for the automatic slack adjuster not working properly (failing to keep the brake in adjustment.) Each violation is valued at four points by CSA, so the double whammy of just one out-of-adjustment brake shows up as eight points against the driver’s PSP.
To be sure, it isn’t accurate to assume that the 12% of vehicles placed OOS in last year’s event represents 12% of all trucks on the road. That’s because different jurisdictions use a variety of criteria in deciding which trucks to inspect. Some may inspect at random, pulling in the next truck that comes into the scale when an inspector becomes available. At many inspection sites, however, the selection is anything but random.
At some locations, inspectors observe trucks as they are pulling across a scale at slow speeds, picking trucks that are older or appear to be in poor repair for inspection. Other jurisdictions might focus on trucks serving a particular industry, such as logging or intermodal. Some focus on large carriers, while others may target owner-operators.
Some inspectors utilize the Inspection Selection System (ISS), which assigns a numerical score to each carrier based on past inspection results and other factors. Under this system, trucks that are more likely to have mechanical violations are selected for inspection.
Some inspectors utilize infrared camera technology to identify truck wheels that are hotter or colder than other wheels on the truck, indicating a potential brake malfunction. And sometimes, inspections are just a matter of luck.
It’s always a good idea to thoroughly inspect braking systems and make sure everything is in proper working order. During Brake Safety Week, too many drivers will be issued citations or placed OOS for issues that could have been found in a pre-trip inspection. Being prepared helps the driver avoid delays and provides the added benefit of making the roads safer for everyone.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.