Truck News


International brake conference to convene

TORONTO, Ont. - International brake experts and enforcement officers from throughout North America will converge on Toronto during Sept. 15 and 16 to focus on some of the most troublesome equipment on...

TORONTO, Ont. – International brake experts and enforcement officers from throughout North America will converge on Toronto during Sept. 15 and 16 to focus on some of the most troublesome equipment on modern trucks – your braking system.

“No doubt about it, brakes still tend to dominate the out-of-service numbers,” admits John Meed, manager of Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance programs with the Saskatchewan Department of Highways. “We’ve seen some improvement through the Operation Air Brake campaign. We have an understanding of where the problems are. This is the next step.”

Operation Air Brake – a brake-specific inspection and education program – was born in Saskatchewan in 1998 has since become an international effort. And if the numbers are any indication, its message is beginning to be heard.

In the past few years, an increasing number of trucks are earning a passing grade when it comes to brake adjustment. While 11.6 per cent of inspected Canadian trucks were placed out of service because of improperly adjusted brakes during the 1998 Operation Air Brake, that number dropped to 9.1 per cent in 1999 and 8.2 per cent in May. When all braking elements were considered, brake-related defects as a whole accounted for equipment out-of-service rates of 13.1 per cent, 11.6 per cent and 13.7 per cent, respectively.

Part of the answer may simply come with more owners adopting newer equipment. When you consider all of the 25,566 brakes that were checked during this May’s edition of Operation Air Brake, 5.6 per cent of those with manual slack adjusters were out of adjustment, but a mere 2.3 per cent of those with automatic slack adjusters faced the same problem.

In total, 3.4 per cent of the push rods that were measured were out of adjustment.

But there’s still the question of why brakes overwhelmingly dominate overall out-of-service numbers. That’s the main issue that the conference will try to address.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had everybody sit down as a multi-disciplinary group before – manufacturers, regulators, enforcers, drivers, carriers and technologists, they all come at it from a different angle,” Meed says. “This is, maybe, just the first step, to lay some groundwork.

“We’ll ask things like why has CVSA (the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance) picked 20 per cent as the magic number to put a vehicle out of service.”

Research already indicates that a five-axle vehicle needs twice the stopping distance of a car. “That’s a fact of life,” Meed says. “But how long is it before that braking deteriorates so low that it is a hazard?”

That’s not to say that existing guidelines are completely arbitrary.

Larry Stern, the CVSA’s director of administration, notes that the 20 per cent benchmark wasn’t set from a specific study, but was a consensus of manufacturers themselves. With different information, the number could be reconsidered, he says.

Some other solutions could be in the hands of those who build the components.

“Maybe the manufacturer says I can do it if you want to pay 200 per cent more for their brake,” Meed says. “Technology can solve all the problems if you have a gazillion dollars to invest. Brake-by-wire is supposed to be the next great panacea. But technology is expensive. It’s not going to be for everybody.”

Rolf Vanderzwaag, program manager for the conference, says the event could also begin to shed light on why jurisdictions like Ontario are able to enjoy higher compliance rates.

“Can we identify the difference between one jurisdiction and another?” asks the Ontario Trucking Association’s maintenance specialist. “We’re basically working with the same rules and the same brakes,” Why, for example, are the numbers low in California and high in South Carolina?

“Perhaps there is a corporate mentality about keeping your brakes properly working that is kind of regionalized,” Vanderzwaag muses. “We have a very narrow window where a brake works properly, and it’s fairly easy to fall out of that window. It takes diligence to stay in that window.

“But we’re basically working with the same rules and the same brakes.”

“The training that we’ve done through the air brake adjustment program (Ontario requires those who want to adjust brakes to be certified) has done a lot to dispel the myths about brake adjustments,” he adds. “We’ve formally trained upwards of 15,000 drivers in that program, and those drivers are talking to other drivers. That, coupled with a fairly big stick with respect to the impoundment program, makes a difference.”

The vast majority of vehicles impounded in Ontario’s notorious Truck Jails are sent away because of brake adjustment problems, and 85 per cent of those vehicles are trailers, Vanderzwaag says. To be impounded, more than 50 per cent of a vehicle’s brakes have to be a quarter inch or more beyond the adjustment limit. Even with low overall numbers, this shows that there’s still a problem that has to be addressed.

“We feel there’s no one particular problem or problem area. There’s not one item that will solve everything,” Stern adds of the out-of-service issue. “Hopefully, we’ll be coming up with the best practices of how to really identify the problem and how to correct it. You could see a change to the inspection process; a change to the out-of-service criteria that begins here.” n

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