Drivers are required to know a few basics about their brake systems in order to pass the CDL test, but how much of what they learned in school do they retain and practice every day? Can they recognize a problem before it becomes mission crippling? Can they properly perform basic brake system inspections? Back in 2012, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance published a brake quiz aimed at drivers and technicians. A total of 895 drivers and 404 technicians participated in the survey. The results that came back were troubling.
That was eight years ago, and to the best of my knowledge CVSA has not published a quiz since. But looking back on the past decade of brake inspection violations recorded in various announced and unannounced inspection blitzes, the number of violations as stayed about the same, give or take a few percentage points.
I've never felt that drivers alone should be responsible for the condition and function of the brake system (technicians and fleet maintenance policies should be held to account in some cases), but I would agree that drivers should know how to inspect their brake systems effectively enough to detect potential trouble and then report the problems to management. If management elects not to deal with the problem, then the violation should be on the fleet too.
But if drivers don't know how to inspect their brakes, how are they to detect a problem?
On the section of the drivers' quiz that asked "right or wrong" questions about basic brake stuff that would help drivers in an inspection, the average score was 57%. In its analysis of the results, Battelle Memorial Institute that years of experience did not correlate directly with higher scores. The analysis did reveal the largest percentage of those scoring ≥ 60% had 20+ years of experience while the majority of those scoring ≤ 30% had 4 or fewer years of service.
It may be a stretch to make this assumption, especially with a survey that's nearly 10 years old, but with the average number of years on the job dropping today with the departure of many senior experienced drivers, it might behoove industry to go back to newer less experienced drivers to see what they actually know about inspecting brakes.
So, here are a few of the questions CVSA asked in that original survey. These relate to basic brake function and details drivers should know about their brakes.
The correct answers appear at the end of the story.