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How can air brakes on a large truck fail?

When you compare the weight of a commercial truck to a typical four door car, there is no question that a large truck will weigh a lot more than the car. Because of this weight disparity, a big truck needs a stronger brake to slow the vehicle down or bring it to a halt. Many large trucks today use air brakes, which employ air to reduce the speed of the vehicle. Air brakes are not infallible, though.

According to Transport Topics, a U.S. Department of Transportation study found that air brake failure contributes to about 29.4% of commercial truck accidents. In spite of the good reputation that air brakes have in controlling the speed of large vehicles, there are two important reasons why air brakes may not stop a truck from careening out of control.

The problem with airflow

When a trucker wants to slow a truck down, the truck driver will put on the brake and air will flow through the brake system to decelerate the vehicle. However, if something in the air brake system should cut off the flow of air, it can lock up the brakes. If a trucker is driving the truck down an incline and the brakes fail, it could cause a serious accident.

The problem of inexperienced drivers

Driving a truck is a more difficult task than driving a small car, so when a trucker encounters a problem like driving down a steep hill, the truck driver should know how to handle the vehicle without panicking. Unfortunately, truckers without a lot of experience may push too hard on the brake to slow the truck down.

Overusing the brakes can cause a number of problems. In addition to a brake locking up, constantly using the brake may produce too much heat in the brake and cause it to catch on fire. The possibility of a brake fire is why calmer, more experienced truck drivers hit the brakes in an intermittent fashion or resort to other methods to slow a truck down like using a jake brake.