NTSB calls for more brake check training, pretrip review
Sep 12, 2002 12:00 PM
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) require formal training and testing to certify all brake inspectors, and revise its regulations to require minimum pretrip inspection procedures for determining brake adjustment, according to NTSB information.
"Commercial truck and bus safety issues are on the NTSB's Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements," NTSB Chairman Marion Blakey said. "Tractor trailers represent four percent of all vehicles on the road, yet are involved in accidents that result in 12 percent of highway fatalities."
The recommendation follows a NTSB investigation into a collision between an 18-wheel truck and a school bus in Mountainburg, AR, May 31, 2001. NTSB determined the collision was caused by reduced braking efficiency of the truck's brakes, which had been poorly maintained and inadequately inspected.
Three children died in the collision. Two children received serious injuries and four had minor injuries. The drivers of both vehicles sustained minor injuries.
"The Mountainburg crash is another example of how poor maintenance, countenanced by inadequate government oversight, can lead to tragedy," said Blakely.
Post accident examination showed that eight of the truck's 10 brakes were either out of adjustment or nonfunctional, with four of them unable to provide any braking force, even without taking into account heat buildup and drum expansion that occurred while the truck was traversing hilly terrain, according to NTSB.
The driver said he had last adjusted the truck's brakes four days before the crash, and had visually inspected them the morning of the accident. However, the NTSB found that the driver did not follow recommended practice for measuring pushrod stroke during the pretrip inspection, and a visual inspection did not allow him to determine that the brakes were out of adjustment.
Some of the brakes had been non-operational for a period of time and the company's vehicles exhibited evidence of poor maintenance. While the mechanic had one year of experience in brake maintenance, as required by FMCSA, he apparently was not prepared to maintain the truck's brakes in safe working order, according to NTSB.
The accident provided another in a series of investigations in which the NTSB has identified the inadequacy of motor carrier inspections, including compliance reviews. The FMCSA, through its predecessor agency, the Office of Motor Carriers, last conducted a compliance review of Gayle Stuart Trucking of Vandalia MO, the owners of the truck, in 1989. Even its post-accident review did not include any truck inspections.
Like previous investigations involving other companies the NTSB cited in its report, Stuart Trucking had significant safety defects on the accident vehicle and other vehicles, numerous driver violations, and unqualified brake inspectors, yet was still permitted to operate.
The NTSB reiterated a safety recommendation it had issued in 1999, which urged the Department of Transportation to change the safety fitness rating methodology so that adverse vehicle and driver performance-based data alone would be sufficient to result in an overall unsatisfactory rating.
In addition, the NTSB addressed two survival factors issues. First, it recommended that retrofitted propane fuel tanks, like the one on this bus, be required to comply with the same safety standards as gasoline and natural gas fuel systems. Although the propane tank was not struck, the truck impacted the bus just inches from the tank.