User Failure or Component Failure: Figuring Out Who’s To Blame When A Truck’s Brakes Bum Out

semi truck white on snow

Car accidents are deadly enough when there isn’t a two-ton tractor trailer involved. That’s why it’s quite frankly baffling that so many trucking companies still seem willing to cut corners when it comes to keeping their vehicles in working order. After all, an accident involving one of these behemoths doesn’t just lead to lost cargo and damage to a company’s bottom line – it can also cause catastrophic injury to anyone involved.

One disclaimer that’s worth noting here before we continue: in many accident situations, it’s actually human error that causes things to spiral out of control. Component failure actually represents a relatively small percentage of catastrophic incidents.

Of the parts that make up a truck, there are two things whose failure causes more accidents than anything else: the brakes and the wheels. Here’s the thing, though – a complete, catastrophic braking failure is actually exceptionally rare. Usually it’s a performance issue, caused by poor maintenance or cut corners.

More often, it could just be the driver trying to cover their own mistakes. That’s not exactly a comforting thought – especially if you were directly injured by one of those mistakes.  Let’s talk about how you can tell the difference – and figure out if you should be looking at the driver or their employer as the guilty party.

Component Failure

According to a study carried out in 2014 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 29% of all large truck crashes involved brake failure as a cause. Maybe a clutch brake didn’t work the way it was supposed to, or a poorly-maintained brake became imbalanced and was unable to effectively stop the truck.

Maybe the hydraulic fluid in a brake was leaking, or the brake linings were worn down.

Regardless of the reason, when the brakes on a truck fail, that’s a very bad thing for everyone involved. But how can a company prevent this from happening? What measures should they be taking to prevent brake failure out the door?

  • Ensure that if maintenance is done on one brake, it’s performed on at least the brake on the opposite side of the axle.
  • Ensure that any company they work with carriers out regular, mandatory brake inspections and maintenance checks.
  • Ensure that brake components meet federal standards, and that they’re purchased exclusively from accredited manufacturers.
  • Ensure that all trucks are evenly-loaded.

If the trucking company involved in your accident cut corners with maintenance, you’ve probably got a clear-cut case in your favor. If, however, their maintenance reports were all up to snuff, things get a little more complicated. Because in that case, the failed component is probably the driver.

User Failure

More often than component failure, human error is to blame for catastrophic vehicle accidents: a trucker going too long without sleep, for instance, or attempting to use stab braking with an automatic air brake system. It’s not always the drivers who are directly at fault here, mind you – working conditions in the trucking industry aren’t exactly the best, and many companies push their drivers way harder than is safe to do so. That’s why it’s important that, in the event an accident occurs, the following questions are always answered as soon as possible:

  • How fast was the driver going at the time of a crash?
  • What were the road conditions?
  • What time of day did the crash occur?
  • What was the mental condition of the driver?
  • What was the physical condition of the driver?
  • What shape was the truck in? Was it properly maintained?
  • What was the driver doing at the time of the crash (ie. were they making a rushed delivery)?

There are others, of course, but these on their own will help you determine if it was truck failure or driver failure that caused a crash. Plus, it’ll help you build a case if you’re an injured party seeking compensation.