CVSA Brake Symposium: Maintenance Techs Challenged by New Technology

Disc brake
A tech changes a disc brake. (Getty Images)

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — The good news is that heavy truck brake technology is moving forward at a dizzying pace — a clear boon for highway safety. Unfortunately, there is a troubling knowledge gap among a large segment of the technicians responsible for keeping up with those brake maintenance advances — even a lack of basic brake maintenance.

That complaint was a consistent one that motor carrier executives and commercial motor vehicle inspectors pointed out in sessions here during a two-day Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance brake symposium earlier this month.

“It’s a never-ending story,” Shelley Conklin, inspection services technical administrator for Landstar Transportation Logistics, told Transport Topics. “Your larger truck stops, like TAs, Love’s, Flying J and Petros, they’re onboard. But all these small mom and pops, they have no clue.”

Conklin said Landstar outsources maintenance for all of its 10,000 owner-operators. Her job involves scouting and monitoring the more than 400 shops Landstar uses for maintenance.

CVSA inspections continue to support the general industrywide challenges associated with keeping brakes in good operating order. Roughly one of five vehicles were placed out of service during CVSA’s three-day International Roadcheck campaign in June 2017. More than 41% of those out-of-service orders were brake-related violations.

It doesn’t help that brakes are becoming more complex, and that the answers to problems can’t always be found in a textbook.

“With brakes, nothing is clear and concise,” one symposium attendee quipped. “There’s always a what if.”


That’s likely part of the reason that brake violations are by far the most commonly cited out-of-service violations during roadside inspections.

“The last time CVSA held a brake safety symposium was in 2006,” Collin Mooney, executive director of CVSA, told conference attendees. “So we’re well-overdue for this event, especially as brake-safety technologies continue to advance at an extremely fast rate. Plain and simple, brakes save lives, but only when they are properly maintained and proper training has been employed.”

There were a number of other takeaways from the two-day session:

Techs are not the only ones with a knowledge gap when it comes to brakes. A recent truck driver survey by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators discussed at the brake symposium showed that only 15 of 4,055 drivers provided the correct response to items involving knowledge of brake adjustment. Only 192 of the drivers surveyed identified all four of the conditions that need to exist to properly inspect brake adjustment.

• Several presenters advised that techs “go back to the basics” of brake maintenance, especially the critical components for safe operation. Poorly maintained, underperforming brakes can have catastrophic consequences, so techs need to know the regulations and CVSA out-of-service criteria.

• Air disk brake sales are on the rise, but S-Cam drum brakes are not going away. Last year, nearly 5% of the 18,000 roadside inspection brake checks were of disc brakes, according to CVSA. “But the suppliers and manufacturers are telling us that discs are now from 15% to 25% of their sales, in both tractors and trailers,” said Will Schaefer, CVSA’s director of safety programs.

• Advanced driver assistance systems rely heavily on foundation brakes being in good operating order. “Almost all of them rely to some extent on the brake system,” Schaefer said. “Not so far in the future there will be steering control and vehicle cruise control that will assist driver input. It’s an exciting conversation. Braking systems are going to be involved in that conversation.”

• Drivers and techs should stay current with CVSA inspection bulletins, which inspectors said are excellent resources for understanding the more complex aspects of roadside vehicle checks.


Follow Us


Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to Transport Topics

Hot Topics