July 12–Tractor trailer drivers who crest a hill, like the one on U.S. 431 near Henry Road in Anniston, shouldn’t rely solely on brakes to slow them on the way down.
Trucking experts say doing so can result in brake failure and preventable accidents, which they say are often caused by young and inexperienced drivers.
Police believe brake failure led to Friday’s deadly crash involving a truck in Anniston, although they haven’t pointed to the cause. Friday’s accident was the second such deadly truck crash on that section of U.S. 431 attributed to brake failure since December.
Meanwhile, state and local officials on Tuesday worked to address safety concerns along the southern end of U.S. 431, which intersects Henry Road, then Choccolocco and Coleman roads a short distance later. That’s where Friday’s crash occurred, killing Jimmy Goodwin, 74, of Weaver.
Anniston police Sgt. Michael Webb told The Star on Monday that the truck, which was traveling south on U.S. 431, lost its brakes shortly after the runaway ramp north of Henry Road on Friday. The truck then ran the red light at the intersection of Coleman Road and hit Goodwin’s Toyota Prius before hitting three other vehicles stopped at a red light in the northbound lanes.
On Dec. 23, 2016, Billy Ray Jones, 44, and Kimberly Ann Jones, 34, were killed when the couple’s car was struck by a truck as they tried to turn left from Coleman Road onto U.S. 431. The driver of the truck told police that his brakes failed.
‘The brakes are going to heat up’
Greg Brown, the CEO of BR Williams in Oxford, said by phone Friday that air brakes on trucks can fail in at least two ways.
In one, there’s a failure in the air brake system, which supplies compressed air to the brake, which keeps them open while driving, Brown said. Without that compressed air the brakes are automatically applied, and can lock brakes up.
A truck’s brakes can also fail if the driver keeps the brakes depressed for an extended length of time, which often happens with inexperienced drivers in downhill slopes, Brown said. The brakes get hot and fail, and can catch fire, he said.
“Don’t ride your brakes all the time. Use them sporadically, and if your truck has a jake brake it should be engaged,” Brown said, referring to a device that uses the power of the engine to slow the truck.
Alabama’s commercial driver’s license manual, written by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, states that braking creates heat, and brakes are designed to take a lot of heat, but that “brakes can fade or fail from excessive heat caused by using them too much and not relying on the engine braking effect.”
“Continued overuse may increase brake fade until the vehicle cannot be slowed down or stopped,” the manual states. “The use of brakes on a long and/or steep downgrade is only a supplement to the braking effect of the engine.”
The manual recommends that drivers put the truck into the proper low gear, press the brakes just hard enough to notice a slowdown, and use brakes for periods of around 3 seconds before releasing them.
Jack Garrison, a trainer with ESD School, which teaches truck driving classes in three Alabama locations, said by phone Tuesday that brake failure caused by overheating can be prevented.
“You want to be in lower gear than what you go up the hill in. Don’t wait until you start down before you try to change gears,” Garrison said. Garrison said he teaches students to give their brakes time to cool down by using them sporadically, and to drive at least 15 mph slower on downhill roads than the posted speed limit for non-commercial vehicles.
“On a 6 percent grade, if you’re loaded and heavy, the brakes are going to heat up really quick,” Garrison said, referring to the 6 percent slope on the portion of U.S. 431 before drivers headed south intersect with Henry and Coleman roads. He added that if all of the truck’s individual brakes aren’t adjusted properly, the brakes that are adjusted will heat up much quicker.
Garrison said that in his 43 years and 5.5 million miles of driving trucks he’s found that younger, less experienced drivers tend to use brakes more frequently.
“The young drivers think you’ve got to ride the brakes all the way down the hill. If they see some smoke or something they’ll panic and press the brakes even harder,” Garrison said.
A 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that one of the most common causes of truck crashes was driver error caused by driving too fast, and the most common vehicle equipment-related cause was brake failure.
Of the 967 truck crashes examined in the study, brake failure comprised 29.4 percent of all truck crashes. Driver error was found to be the cause of 87 percent of the crashes studied, according to the report, “and most involved failure to correctly recognize the situation or poor driving decisions.”
Addressing the problem
Kent Davis, Anniston’s city manager, said Tuesday that city leaders and department heads met Monday with officials from the Alabama Department of Transportation and a representative of a local trucking company. Davis described the meeting as lengthy and productive.
Davis said that during the meeting officials discussed short- and long-term solutions, some of which were being implemented Tuesday, including ALDOT’s installation of additional radar signs alerting drivers of their speeds.
Davis said workers on Tuesday, in an effort to reduce the number of cars along that stretch of U.S. 431, were removing signs that directed drivers onto Henry Road to enter into downtown Anniston.
“That’s probably not the best way to route them to downtown Anniston,” Davis said. “So we may try to send them to Greenbrier Dear Road or somewhere further south.”
ALDOT also agreed at Monday’s meeting to expedite the agency’s study of the section of state-owned road, and to make a decision by the end of this week whether ALDOT will make adjustments to how the traffic signal at the dangerous intersection changes.
Davis said ALDOT is considering keeping the traffic light at Coleman and U.S. 431 red for a longer period of time. Doing so, Davis said, may prevent accidents by giving drivers who run red lights more time before traffic coming the other way enters the intersection.
Other plans being considered by ALDOT include installing lighted signs that warn drivers of traffic signals that are red, or about to turn red, ahead, Davis said.
Davis said the city can make suggestions to ALDOT, but that it’s up to the agency to make changes to the state-owned parkway. He said the city can do immediate things to help, such as increased police patrols, which is being done.
Anniston police Sgt. MichaelWebb said Tuesday afternoon that since Friday’s accident the department had issued just more than 20 traffic citations on U.S. 431, between Coleman and Henry roads, and that police will continue to ramp up patrols there in the coming weeks.
“People need to know we’re serious about this, and that citizens are part of the solution,” Davis said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.
(c)2017 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.)
Visit The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) at www.annistonstar.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.