This is Brake Safety Week, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s (CVSA) seven-day brake inspection and enforcement initiative and brake-safety outreach and awareness campaign. All week, commercial motor vehicle inspectors in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. will be conducting their usual North American Standard Level I and IV Inspections; however, in addition, they will be documenting brake-related out-of-service violations and brake hose/tube chafing violations and will submit that data to CVSA. The results will be released later this year.

“Poorly maintained brake systems can reduce the braking capacity and stopping distance of large trucks and motorcoaches, which poses a serious risk to driver and public safety,” says CVSA President Capt. John Broers with the South Dakota Highway Patrol. “In those split-second emergency situations, the proper functionality of the brake systems on large commercial motor vehicles is crucial.”

CVSA devotes a week to brake-safety inspections and education because:

  • Last year’s CVSA International Roadcheck results found that brake systems and brake adjustment violations accounted for 38.9% of all vehicle out-of-service violations, the most of any category of vehicle violations.
  • During CVSA’s unannounced one-day brake safety initiative in April 2022, 14.1% of the 9,132 commercial motor vehicles inspected that day were placed out of service for brake-related critical vehicle inspection item violations.
  • Brake-related violations accounted for seven out of the top 20 vehicle violations in 2021, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Motor Carrier Management Information System data snapshot (as of July 29, 2022).
  • Brake system was the third most cited vehicle-related factor in large truck fatal crashes, according to FMCSA’s most recent (2019) Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts report.

“We ask our drivers, you know, don’t just do your pre-trip [inspections] in the morning, but also walk around your truck, or every time you stop—I mean, we’re in the scrap business, you’re in and out of scrap yards and you know, you can run over stuff. Just because it was good at 6 o’clock in the morning doesn’t necessarily mean something couldn’t go wrong at 1 o’clock in the afternoon,” explains Andy Coates, fleet manager at Fond du Lac-Wis.-based Sadoff Iron & Metal Co. He adds that maintenance teams regularly service parts of brake systems that drivers can’t visually inspect like air chambers and slack adjusters.

“Corrosion is just horrendous on all parts of the truck including the brake system, whether it’s rust jacking on the brake shoes or rotting out the brake chambers,” he says. “One of the things I always teach my mechanics and preach to them: When you look at a truck, and it’s got automatic brake adjusters, and you find one that’s out of spec, you need to dig deeper, you can’t just readjust it and call it good. Get to the bottom of it before you forget to turn it loose again.”

During Brake Safety Week, and every day of the year, when an inspector discovers critical vehicle inspection items, as identified in the North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria, that vehicle will be placed out of service until the condition is corrected. During an unannounced Brake Safety Day on April 27, 46 jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S. removed 1,290 commercial motor vehicles with brake-related critical vehicle inspection item violations from Canadian and American roadways. That’s 14.1% of the 9,132 commercial motor vehicles inspected that day. On Brake Safety Day, CVSA-certified inspectors conduct their usual commercial motor vehicle inspections; they also reported brake-related data to the Alliance.

Sadoff takes each owned truck off the road for a full inspection and servicing every 5,000 miles. But what about vehicles the company leases? “We have a number of full-service leases that we’ve gotten into in the last few years that [lessors’] service intervals are incredibly long,” Coates says. “Compared to what we would do, sometimes they’re not seeing those trucks for 30,000 or 40,000 miles. We have taken it upon ourselves to look over the trucks when they’re not in use.” That way, trucks with potential problems can go back to the leasing company for service.

Brake Safety Week is part of CVSA’s Operation Airbrake program in partnership with FMCSA, the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, Transport Canada and Mexico’s Ministry of Communications, and the National Guard. Operation Airbrake is a comprehensive program dedicated to improving commercial motor vehicle brake safety throughout North America. The goal is to reduce the number of highway crashes caused by faulty braking systems by conducting roadside inspections and educating drivers, mechanics, owner-operators, and others on the importance of proper brake inspection, maintenance, and operation.


Primary photo courtesy of Sadoff Iron & Metal Co.

Dan Hockensmith

Dan Hockensmith

I'm a native Ohioan who since 2014 has called Maryland home. My background includes print, broadcast, and digital journalism; government contracting; and marketing communications.