New NHTSA Large Truck Braking Standards Announced

As a truck accident lawyer, I have sat with too many families over the past years whose loved ones have been killed as a result of a large truck with faulty brakes. I’m pleased to see that NHTSA is taking steps to address this problem.

In a move estimated to save 227 lives and prevent 300 serious injuries annually resulting from truck accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued new braking standards for large trucks on July 24, 2009. In a NHTSA press release announcing the new rule, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “Safety is our highest priority. Motorists deserve to know they are sharing the road with large trucks that are up to the safest possible standards, so they can get home alive to their families.”

Scheduled to begin with 2012 truck models, the new regulation will be phased in over four years and will apply only to truck tractors, not to single-unit trucks, trailers and buses. The regulation requires a tractor-trailer traveling at 60 MPH to come to a complete stop in 250 feet, a 30% improvement over the currently required 355 feet.

The press release goes on to note that NHTSA statistics show a significant year-to-year decrease in the involvement of large commercial vehicles in fatal crashes in the past two years. In 2008, wrecks involving large trucks left 4,229 dead, a 12% reduction from the 4,822 people killed in such accidents in 2007. The new regulation is touted as a way to help continue that trend.

The new rule is also projected to reduce costs of property damage by over $169 million a year.

While any new regulation that saves lives and property is obviously a step in the right direction and this particular rule is welcome news, the truth is that the efficacy of any regulation depends to a large degree on its enforcement.

The new NHTSA rule does not address, for example, the fact that compliance with heavy truck tractor maintenance is often found to be lacking – especially compliance with braking system maintenance. Braking failure is one of the leading contributing factors in commercial truck accidents. The NHTSA’s new ruling covers only new vehicles and the original equipment on those vehicles. Aftermarket brake liners and other brake parts may not provide the braking efficiency achieved by the systems on newly configured vehicles, rendering those trucks unable to fulfill their own capabilities and causing them to fall short of the stopping distance required by the new rule.

Other concerns include the potential need of foreign truck manufacturers, especially those in China, for additional time to come into compliance with new stopping standards, and the fact that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations regarding service and emergency brake stopping distance requirements may need to be adjusted to reflect the new standards.

These concerns do not negate the need for new safety regulations, but instead point out the continued need for effective enforcement of new and existing regulations in order to prevent truck accidents on our nation’s roads.

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