A truck's braking system is the most important device on a truck, when it comes to preventing a serious truck accident in Washington, D.C. Trucks are far heavier than cars or other normal passenger vehicles – even when empty, tractor trailers are approximately ten times heavier than the average car – and so do far more damage when they collide with something else on the road. Worse, trucks have a higher profile, so whenever they are involved in a collision, the impact happens higher from the ground, resulting in significantly more serious injuries to whoever is in the other vehicle. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 97% of the fatalities from accidents involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle was one of the occupants in the smaller car.
These problems make it all the more important that a truck can come to a complete stop as quickly as possible and avoid a potentially catastrophic accident. That is where a truck's braking system comes into play.
Truck Braking Systems
Tractor trailers and other large trucks technically have three different braking systems: The service brake, the parking brake, and the emergency brake. Each one serves its own purpose on a large truck, and each can prevent a truck crash.
A truck's service brake system is the one that truck drivers use the most often. Just like in regular cars, it is activated in a tractor trailer by pressing the brake pedal that is underneath the steering column, next to the accelerator. However, that is where the similarities end between a truck's service brake system and a car's service brake system.
A passenger vehicle's service brakes are hydraulic brakes: They need braking fluid in order to work properly and bring the car to a stop. Trucks, on the other hand, use service brakes that are based on pressurized air, making them air brakes instead of hydraulic brakes.
A truck's air brake system works by taking air, which has been pressurized by the pistons in the truck's engine compartment and shooting it through the air lines that run through the underside of the truck. When the pressurized air makes it to the braking system, it starts the mechanical chain reaction that applies the brake pads to the wheel and brings the truck to a stop. The particulars of this chain reaction depend on what type of brake the truck uses. The two most common types are disc brakes and drum brakes.
In a disc brake system, the actual wheel of the truck is attached on the inside to the rotor. When the truck accelerates, the rotor spins faster, making the wheel turn, and this makes the truck move. The disc brake system uses a caliper, which holds the brake pads on both sides of the rotor. When the pressurized air from the truck's engine compartment is released from the engine by the trucker hitting the brake pedal, it shoots through the truck's air lines and into the disc brake system, where it activates the caliper, which squeezes the brake pads to the rotor, bringing the rotor and, through the rotor, the wheel, to a complete stop.
The other common type of braking system on a truck is a drum brake. The key component on these kinds of braking systems is a brake drum, which is shaped like a flat rim and is attached to the inside of each one of the truck's wheels. The brake drum includes another flat rim, the brake shoe. When the pressurized air enters a drum braking system, it pushes the brake shoe outwards, where it comes into contact with the inside surface of the brake drum. Because the brake drum is attached to the truck's wheel, this slows down the rotation of the wheel, as well.
Because these braking systems rely on pressurized air, rather than a liquid like brake fluid, there is a slight delay in the time that it takes for them to start working. However, this delay is less than a second from the time the truck driver hits the brake pedal to when the pressurized air has traveled through the truck's air lines. While this might seem like this makes air brakes less effective than hydraulic ones, there is a trade off: Air brakes never run out of brake fluid, like hydraulic brakes can, and continue to work if there is a small hole in the lines that run to the brakes, unlike hydraulic brakes, which fail whenever there is a hole in the brake fluid line.
Just like on a normal car, trucks have parking brakes that keep the truck stationary when the engine is off. The parking brake uses a spring, rather than pressurized air, so it can be utilized when the engine is not running.
Finally, the parking brake that trucks are equipped with can also be used as an emergency brake when engaged while the truck is moving. Because the parking brake is stronger than a truck's service brakes, truckers often pull the brake's lever to get their truck to stop when there is an emergency up ahead and they need to stop immediately. Unfortunately, this often leads to the trucker losing control of his or her vehicle, which can lead to a jackknife or rollover accident.
Truck Accident Attorneys in Washington, D.C.
A significant portion of the accidents in Washington, D.C. that involve trucks and tractor trailers are caused by braking systems that are faulty or worn out. In these situations, if you are minding your own business, driving on the roads of the District of Columbia, and a truck's braking system fails, you could become the victim of a serious trucking accident.
If this happens to you or to a loved one, the injuries that you suffer could require extensive medical attention that proves to be more expensive than you can afford. By getting legal representation from the personal injury and truck accident attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian, you can enforce your legal rights and get the compensation you deserve from the person or people who caused your accident. Contact us online or call us at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.