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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Truckers in the dark on brake adjustment
TORONTO, (June 1, 2005) -- A shockingly low number of truck drivers in North America have a clear understanding of air brakes and brake adjustment, states a continent-wide knowledge survey obtained by TodaysTrucking.com. The survey -- which was conducted by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance as part of Operation Air Brake in 2003 -- polled 4,055 commercial truck drivers across 60 jurisdictions in North America. Of those drivers, only 15 (0.37%) provided the correct response to all questions involving knowledge of brake adjustment. The CVSA -- an organization of North American safety, law enforcement, private sector and regulatory officials -- says the responses reveal an overwhelming level of misunderstanding about the importance of brake adjustment and correct methods to inspect brake adjustment on their vehicles. Operation Air Brake is enforcement blitz that began in 1998, sponsored by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In recent years, the FMCSA has launched two annual components: an unannounced event in the spring and one scheduled campaign in September. At the scheduled event in 2004 more than 240,000 brakes were inspected. There was an increase in the number of vehicles placed out-of-service over the 2003 event -- both for brake adjustment (from 11.0% to 11.4%) and brake component (from 7.5% to 8.8%) violations. That hike in non-compliance may partly be explained by this most recent survey, which asked drivers a series of brake adjustment questions in multiple choice and true and false formats. Only 192 of the 4055 drivers (0.47%) correctly identified all four of the conditions necessary to properly inspect brake adjustment. Respondents didn't fair much better in the other survey items which explored driver knowledge of compliance issues, how they respond to brake adjustment problems, and their beliefs regarding automatic brake adjusters. For example, in order to ensure the correct air pressure is actually delivered to the brake chambers, the service brakes must be fully applied. The survey shows that 1,211drivers correctly identified this condition. Alarmingly, 2,730 drivers indicated that the service brakes needed to be released or only partially applied. "This simple requirement is possibly the most important condition that must exist for inspecting brake adjustment," says the report. "And it is one that drivers should easily remember." Asked to identify the method used by the respondent to determine when brake need to be adjusted, 2,510 drivers (62%) identified incorrect, unreliable methods. In fact, 1,840 drivers (45%) indicated that they rely on the "feel" of the brakes -- presumably the way they experience the vehicle reaction to brake applications - as the determining method. Another 670 (16.5%) indicated that they use the angle between the slack adjuster and the brake chamber pushrod as the determining method. Only 35 percent (1,414 drivers) identified reliable methods for determining when brakes need to be adjusted. "I think more then anything what the survey shows is that the drivers are simply not being educated properly," says Andrew Malion, chairman of Spectra Inc. -- Toronto-based designer and manufacturer of Brake Safe and Brake Inspector. "Some driving schools, and the industry in general, are not spending enough time dealing with the seriousness of the problem … "Furthermore, the fact that manufacturers are complying with the visual means of indication by putting paint or tape on the pushrod, simply does not work," he said in an interview with Todaystrucking.com this afternoon. The survey also explores beliefs relating to the effectiveness of automatic brake adjusters. While the report makes it clear there's no "correct" response, CVSA notes that 2,179 drivers (53%) indicated that automatic adjusters never go out of adjustment. This may accurately reflect their experience in a well maintained fleet environment, the survey explains, but it may also display "a false sense of security regarding their vehicles." In fact, 58 percent of trucks put out-of-service for brake adjustment in last year's Operation Air Brake had automatic slack adjusters, Malion points out. "It just goes to show they're not infallible," he says. Additionally, drivers were asked to indicate what they do when they encounter a vehicle with its brakes out of adjustment. Considering the prevailing lack of sound technical knowledge about brake adjustment, it's somewhat surprising, notes the report, that the largest number of driver respondents (2,078 or 51%) indicated that they would readjust the brakes themselves. The remaining drivers would simply report the problem to the carrier. Given that only 24 percent of drivers identified themselves as owner-operators, a significant number of company drivers also perform their own brake adjustments, the survey suggests. Like Malion, the CVSA suggests the low level of correct responses is likely attributable to the training that the driver respondents have received. "Since the majority of responses reveal lack of knowledge, sharing of information amongst drivers would appear to do little more than perpetuate the myths and misconceptions," says the report. -- Read more on this story in the upcoming July/Aug print issue of Today's Trucking.
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