A runaway truck barreling down a mountain grade is a terrifying event. When a driver loses the ability to stop a heavy, loaded tractor trailer traveling down a long slope, the result can be tragic as this type of truck accidents causes both serious injuries and fatalities.
Truck accident lawyers know that runaway crashes happen for a number of reasons. Preventing such incidents means that all drivers must understand their cause and use proper practices to prevent the conditions that could cause them to lost control of their rig.
How Truck Brakes Work on Downhill Grades
The overall reason why drivers lose control of their truck on a downgrade relates to physics and the transfer of energy. A tractor trailer moving down a long mountain grade generates energy based on its size and weight; this energy reacts with the length and angle of the downgrade. To stop the truck, the driver applies the brakes, which receive a transfer of kinetic energy, converting it into heat energy.
When there are problems with this transfer of energy or when the thermal energy that is produced is too great for the brake system mechanics, the brakes may fail. This condition is called brake fade and as truck accident lawyers who are familiar with these events know, this can happen in a number of different ways. Runaway tractor trailers experiencing brake fade can cause deadly and devastating truck accidents when they collide with other vehicles at full speed.
Various Causes of Brake Fade
Brake fade is a condition where the brakes on a tractor trailer lose the effectiveness that is required to slow the vehicle down while descending a downgrade. Brake power fades after initial application, causing the truck to lose control and often cause serious truck accidents. This can occur in a variety of ways:
- Friction Fade - This is a reduction of friction between the brake pad and drum or rotor. Friction fade can occur if the brake parts were not properly produced, the pads do not correctly fit the drums/rotors because they are twisted or poorly remanufactured, the drums/rotors are not resurfaced often enough, or the pads are not frequently replaced. Friction fade is the most common cause of this condition and, as most truck accident lawyers understand, proper truck maintenance can prevent this from happening.
- Mechanical Fade - Brake drums may experience a condition where the heat generated by friction causes the drum to actually expand outward, increasing its diameter. If the drum increases enough, the brake pad can lose effectiveness since it cannot create the proper friction to slow the vehicle enough to prevent it from losing control.
- Fluid Fade - This occurs when the friction generated by the brakes causes the fluid within the system to boil and then vaporize. Hydraulic braking systems, which is what most tractor trailers have, require fluid to activate the pads when the pedal is pushed. The hydraulics will not work effectively if the fluid is in a gaseous state.
- Domino Fade - When some of the brakes on a truck are out of adjustment, it can put a disproportionate load on some of the wheels while others are not affected as much. The brakes taking the brunt of the load will become overheated due to overuse. They will fail first, creating a domino effect that can eventually affect more of the tires.
Preventing dangerous truck accidents that result when a tractor trailer becomes a runaway vehicle on a mountain grade requires compliance on two levels. Truck accident lawyers stress that vehicle maintenance must be done regularly, paying particular attention to the brakes. In addition, drivers must receive adequate training about how to negotiate downhill grades. Through proper education and the correct maintenance of these enormous vehicles, most runaway incidents and their deadly aftermath can be prevented!
Hildebrand & Wilson, LLP
Robert W. Hildebrand, Attorney at Law
J. Daniel Wilson, Attorney at Law
7830 Broadway, Suite 122
Pearland TX 77581