Sharing the Road with Tractor Trailers: Air Brakes

Sharing the Road with Tractor Trailers: Air Brakes

gittin-da-bugs-off-441154-mWhy would you care about air brakes? After all, it’s not as if you are looking to enter the trucking industry anytime soon.  Nevertheless, it is wise to, at the very least, understand the basic function of the brakes on these massive machines, because you do share the road with them and that means that you are risk of being involved in a tractor trailer accident.

The brakes on big rigs are not the same as those found on a traditional passenger vehicle.  The giant machines can weigh up to 80,000 pounds when carrying a full load and that is a lot of momentum to stop when there is a sudden obstacle.  For that reason, the manufacturers did not want to rely on hydraulic brakes because it is too easy for fluid levels to fall due to leaks.  The added weight means that a runaway truck can pick up huge amounts of speed, especially on declines.  Air brakes are more reliable for these large machines. 

Air brakes rely on pressure built up by air intake valves.  The brakes are applied and the system must be pressurized once more before the brakes can release.  This design ensures that an air leak does not cause brake failure, but instead, ensures that the brakes remain engaged.  This also means that air brakes help to maintain speed when a truck is traveling on the highway.  Otherwise, downward slopes would cause a drastic increase in speed.  The air brakes minimize this gravity-induced acceleration.

Many people are familiar with the hissing sound that large trucks make on the highway.  That sound can be attributed to the air brake system.  It is the whoosh of air leaving the system when the brakes are applied.

In St. Petersburg, personal injury attorneys are regularly encountering truck accident lawsuits.  While many have nothing to do with the braking system, some do and that points to a particular weak point in the braking system.  While the leaking hydraulic fluid would be a big problem, air brakes have a weakness in that excessive use can lead to overheating.  The high temperatures can eventually cause the brake system to fail.

Experienced truck drivers can easily drive a truck over several hundred miles without any problem because they know how to lessen the wear and tear experienced by the braking system.  The solution is rather simple, by downshifting, the driver can maintain traveling speeds and reduce the need for braking.  Owners who have been “around the block” are also aware of the need for regular brake maintenance.  If the system fails, the consequences can be deadly.  That alone should be the incentive needed for truck owners to regularly inspect the system to ensure that everything is in proper working condition.

In worst case situations, highway authorities have attempted to mitigate risk by installing emergency stops on steep declines.  The ramps made of gravelly material are meant to use both gravity and friction to slow the out-of-control truck.

Inexperience has led to accidents in Saint Petersburg before.  It is wise to avoid riding directly in front of 18-wheelers when traveling down hills on the highway.  Unfortunately, the damage done in a tractor trailer accident be very costly, and horribly tragic.  If involved in such an accident, speak to a personal injury attorney.  You may be able to recoup your expenses in court.

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