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Crunching the numbers

TORONTO, Ont. - The statisticians were out in full force at the inaugural North American Brake Safety Conference held last month in Toronto.First up was John Meed, head of heavy vehicle inspections fo...


TORONTO, Ont. – The statisticians were out in full force at the inaugural North American Brake Safety Conference held last month in Toronto.

First up was John Meed, head of heavy vehicle inspections for Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation, and one of the founders of Operation Air Brake. Started in 1997, Operation Air Brake is a North America-wide “selective traffic enforcement program” designed to promote and reinforce the need for drivers to check and adjust their air-brake systems.

“The two top reasons trucks are taken out of service today are out-of-adjustment brakes and other brake system problems,” he said. Out-of-adjustment brakes account for about 21 per cent of all out-of-service defects uncovered by Operation Air Brake. Brake system defects, meanwhile, account for about 22 per cent of all out-of-service defects.

There was also a mix of good and bad news from the U.S. presented by statistician Terry Shelton of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Shelton began by pointing out that the number of large trucks registered in the U.S. rose from just over 6 million in 1989 to more than 7 million by 1998. Likewise, the number of miles traveled by large trucks over that period rose from just under 150 million to about 200 million. Fortunately, Shelton said, the number of roadside inspections of large trucks kept pace over that period, rising from about 1.2 million in 1989 to more than 2 million by 1998.

While the increase in the number of vehicle inspections since the late 1980s initially resulted in fewer out-of-service violations, the effect of inspections seems to have worn off.

“We went from a high of more than 1 million out-of-service vehicle violations in 1990 to about 650,000 by 1995,” Shelton pointed out. “Since 1995 though, the number has been basically stable.”

The same is true of brake related out-of-service violations, Shelton said. That number dropped steadily from a high of more than 600,000 in 1990 to about 300,000 in 1995. Since then, however, the number has leveled off, and actually rose to about 250,000 in 1999.

Meanwhile, the 1996 National Fleet Safety Survey reported that 32 per cent of inspected trucks were placed out of service, and 49 per cent of those violations pertained to brakes. “As you can see, the number of out-of-service violations dropped, but the per cent of violations due to brake defects actually rose,” explained Shelton. “So we have to get the brake violations down if we want to get the overall number down.” n


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