On the Road

Crash Prevention? Sorry, not our job.

June 24, 2012

With a potential calamity hanging in the balance, why didn't law enforcement in this small Canadian tourist town take any action to prevent it, or at least investigate what I had called to tell them?

What does this disc brake pad say to you? I found it in a motel parking lot frequented by tour buses that travel the mountainous roads in the region.



I took a little time off last week to get away from the grind for a while, but the gods brought the grind to me and left me in a difficult position. The picture you see at the top of this commentary is a disc brake pad, formerly part of a tour bus. As you can see, it has been pretty badly abused. Take a look further down and you'll see two more photos of the same brake pad clearly showing melted material along the edge of the pad and discoloration resulting from extreme heat.

That brake pad was lying on the driveway of a motel in a tourist town noted for its dramatic ocean views and mountainous terrain. The roads that draw the tourists and the tour buses to the area have 5-mile-long, 13% grades with sheer cliffs and 1,000-foot drops adjacent to the roadway. It's a great place to put a motorcycle through its paces, but not such a great place for a loaded tour bus with at least one completely unserviceable brake.


I stayed at the motel one night while on my vacation, and noticed the brake pad in the morning as I walked to the restaurant for breakfast. The motel has a two-tiered parking lot -- with and upper and lower levels. The buses park on the upper level, and I found the pad on the drive between the two levels. There was a bus in the upper lot at the time, so fearing for the safety of the passengers, I decided to call the local detachment of the RCMP -- the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the police force charged with keeping the peace in that area.

I figured that if I alerted the police, they would send someone around to inspect that bus, and perhaps prevent a nasty accident. I had no idea if the burned brake pad was from that bus, but given its condition, I knew it had to be from a bus that had been at that motel recently, say within the last week, given the lack of rust on the exposed surfaces.

Silly me. Seems the RCMP would rather supervise post-crash investigations than try to prevent a crash.

Press 9 for Somebody who Cares

When I called the local detachment, I explained to the woman who answered the phone what I had found on the driveway. I explained the condition it was in, the potential threat, and I also explained my familiarity with such components. Her response was, "What are we supposed to do, check every bus and truck in the area for a missing brake?"

From where I stood, the problem didn't seem quite as complicated as that. The brake pad must have come from a vehicle that had been in the hotel parking lot recently. It was probably a bus, not a truck, given the lack of uptake of disc brakes by the trucking industry. Almost all buses built in the past five years are equipped with disc brakes at all wheel positions, and buses regularly use that parking lot.

Because it was not yet the full-on tourist season, there would have been a limited number of buses in that parking lot over the previous week or so. A quick check of the motel register would have clearly shown which tour operators had stayed at the hotel, and they would certainly have had records of which buses had been to the motel.

So, to ignorant little me the problem of finding the bus the brake pad might have fallen from wasn't a monumental task, but a simple bit of footwork any officer-on-the-beat could have conducted in a matter of hours. That would have narrowed down the field considerably, and the short list of potential buses could have been checked easily enough.

The RCMP operator asked if I had advised the driver of the problem, which I hadn't, because I had no idea who the driver was or which room he or she was in. At that point, the operator asked to speak to the hotel desk clerk. I passed her the phone, and then the operator said something to her, presumably that she should alert the driver to the problem, and then she hung up. Problem solved.

As I said, I don't know if that brake pad was from the bus that was in the parking lot at the time or another bus, and I haven't heard about any bus crashes in the area, so I guess my fears were groundless. But who knows, that bus may still be out there somewhere, minus a brake pad and who knows what else.

I think I did the right thing in trying to alert the authorities to a potentially deadly situation, but I'm extremely disappointed in the RCMP's response to the situation. I admit too, that came to a few of my own conclusions about the origin of the brake pad, but I think anyone with even a little knowledge of such things would agree that there is a bus out there somewhere with a problem. It's missing a brake pad, and that pad has been badly overheated -- which could mean the other pad is gone, too. If that's the case, the bus in question has working brakes on only five of six wheel positions.

I wish those passengers luck.