The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently discovered that brake problems raise the risk for serious commercial truck crashes by nearly 400 percent. Researchers who analyzed reports of wrecks involving box trucks and tractor-trailers in North Carolina also discovered that violating rules for mandatory rest between driving shifts and operating commercial vehicles with defective and/or uninspected lights and tires put people on North Carolina highways at increased danger for injuries and death.
Crash Risk Factors for Interstate Large Trucks in North Carolina was published in September 2016. The authors summarized their main findings this way:
Out-of-service (OOS) brake violations tripled the risk of crashing; any OOS vehicle defect increased crash risk by 362 percent. Higher historical crash rates (fatal, injury, or all crashes) of the carrier were associated with increased risk of crashing. Operating on a short-haul exemption increased crash risk by 383 percent. Antilock braking systems reduced crash risk by 65 percent. All of these results were statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level.
As used for study purposes, “out-of-service” meant the brakes were past their rated safety limit for years or miles, not recently inspected or malfunctioning or defective in some way. Other out-of-service safety equipment and indications of driver fatigue like short rest and logbook violations were associated with high numbers of crashes, but the differences from trucks that did not crash were not found to be significant.
The authors of this IIHS report emphasized the importance of addressing heavy truck risk factors by citing other institute research showing that “in 2014, 68 percent of deaths in large truck crashes were passenger vehicle occupants. Another 15 percent were motorcyclists, pedestrians, or bicyclists, and 16 percent were the occupants of large trucks.”
Interestingly the crash risk factor study also revealed that truck wrecks resulting in disabling injuries and deaths were most likely to involve tractor-trailers and to take place on interstates during weekdays between 6 am and 2 pm. This indicates that commercial trucks are most likely to crash and kill when speeds are high, night shifts behind the wheel become dayshifts in the driver’s seat and more passenger vehicles are on the road.
Conditions like those make driving with bad brakes a true threat. Stopping a heavy vehicle in time to avoid a collision is difficult. Stopping a heavy vehicle, or even quickly reducing speed when traffic flow changes, can be impossible when many other vehicles are around and reaction time is slowed by fatigue.
A factsheet issued by the Utah Department of Transportation points out that a large passenger vehicle weighing 4,000 pounds and traveling at 55 mph on straight, dry pavement needs 255 total feet to stop. An 80,000-pound tractor-trailer in the same condition needs 355 feet, or an entire football field. Raise the respective vehicles’ speeds to 65 mph, and the required stopping distances increase to 316 feet and 525 feet.
As a Carolina wrongful death attorney, I have sounded the alarm over bad brakes on big rigs before. This new data from the IIHS should be read a call for urgent action to ensure that all heavy commercial vehicles have the best brakes and the most alert drivers.