There were no surprises in the new federal rule designed to improve the braking power of a standard, fully loaded, tractor-trailer by almost one-third.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration worked with the industry on a shorter stopping distance, and the final rule, issued July 24, will not force truck operators to adopt disc brakes if they don’t want them. It does not require installation of electronic brake systems, nor does it attempt to regulate brake “fade” (loss of effectiveness) in prolonged applications.
Brake makers last week said they would be able to meet the new stopping standard with larger, “enhanced” drum brakes, based on familiar technology.
Some fleets, of course, freely choose disc brakes and EBS for their tractors.
By setting a maximum stopping distance of no more than 250 feet from 60 mph, starting with 2012 models, NHTSA cut the standard by more than 100 feet. Early tests did not instill confidence in the agency’s mind that brake drums could do the job. NHTSA favored air-powered disc brakes, and even considered a “hybrid” mix of discs and drums on the tractor.
In the 1970s, NHTSA was eyeing a stopping distance of 216 feet from 60 mph, which proved technically infeasible. But the effort eventually led, over a stormy and circuitous route, to the anti-lock brake mandate.
The draft of this latest rule was unveiled in 2005, and many fleets immediately said they did not want to be forced into discs. They argued disc brakes on the tractor and drum brakes on the trailers — the norm for trailers — would create compatibility and balance problems. They said they would face additional costs in stocking parts for two different brake systems and would need to train technicians in both.
Fleets also were concerned that new brake requirements would overlap the arrival of engine emission systems in 2007 and 2010.
NHTSA’s recognition that bigger drum brakes can do the job means adapting to the new rule “should be pretty smooth,” American Trucking Associations said. That’s the best no-surprise of all.
Also, NHTSA acknowledged that truck operators still have equipment changes coming their way that will add cost and weight to trucks. We can’t help but agree that the resulting accident reduction will justify the expense in the long run.
We see this new rule as another positive for an industry that keeps getting safer, as shown by the steep, 12% drop in truck-related highway fatalities last year.