Skipping the Brake Check

Brake Check SignPerhaps you saw news coverage of the out of control commercial truck collision on the Coquihalla Highway on August 5, 2016. Witness accounts from the scene speculated that the combination appeared to have lost it’s brakes and may not have stopped at the mandatory brake check pullout nearby.

No doubt this will be either confirmed or disproved when the investigation of the incident is complete.

News Stories of the Incident

The commercial truck driver, Roy McCormack, was charged with 8 counts of criminal negligence in Chilliwack provincial court. He was acquitted of these charges at trial by Justice Edelmann in BC Supreme Court on May 3, 2021.

Mandatory Brake Check

There are mandatory brake checks before significant grades on many of B.C.’s highways. Drivers of specified vehicles must stop and perform a brake check before they start down the hill.

If the air brakes are out of adjustment or any other defects are found, the driver must remedy the problem before proceeding.

The intent is that this insures that heavily loaded vehicles don’t lose their brakes and become involved in a collision.

Application to Small Trucks

You might be surprised to find out that heavy commercial trucks with air brakes are not the only vehicles required to stop and check brakes at these mandatory check locations.

Any truck with a licensed gross vehicle weight over 5,500 kilograms must stop and check, regardless of the type of braking system involved. This could include a pickup truck towing a large recreational trailer behind it.

Commercial Driver Training

Properly licensed drivers of vehicle combinations like this often have either a higher qualification or endorsements and are familiar with how to proper check their braking systems.

ICBC highlights a proper inspection procedure in the Driving Commercial Vehicles manual. It includes a pre and post trip list and a pre-hill section. The manual is worthwhile reading for any driver who would like to gain a better understanding of the heavy vehicles that we share the road with in addition to the brake information.

What Needs to be Checked

Many brake checks have signs posted that remind the driver of what they should be checking when they stop.

They Stop but Don't Check

This is how we hope that the system works and we are protected by its operation when we share the road with heavy loads. When the driver is a conscientious one, all is well.

In the real world, I’ve seen drivers pull in, stop, pause and continue without ever leaving the cab. If they did alight, a good tire thumping to discover flats was all that occurred as they never stooped to look underneath.

I even knew of trucking companies where a ticket for out of adjustment brakes on trailers was a virtual certainty if I found them during patrols.

Ineffective Case Law

Even the courts have not helped the situation. The courts held that the simple act of being able to stop the vehicle at the check was sufficient to comply with the sign directing drivers there.

Unless the driver failed to stop at all, there were no grounds to issue a ticket for disobeying.

Police would have to examine the vehicle and find a defect, then ticket for the particular defect in order to take any enforcement action.

Our government has not decided to strengthen the legislation despite incidents like this one.

It Depends How You Drive

With a perfectly functional, correctly adjusted braking system, over use of the brakes on a hill can result in a runaway truck. Experience, anticipation and proper control of vehicle speed through the use of the transmission on hills is critical. 

Signs at the brake check showing distance and grades are priceless information for drivers who are not familiar with the hills of British Columbia.

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Interesting comment on brake checks. A few year ago on this high way we stopped with our RV to have lunch at truck stop and the brake check area was clearly visible as was the signage. Not surprising ,some drivers did not comply.

Combine this with higher speed limits and drivers who push the limits -any innocent driver is at risk , when stopped as required for road work.

The investigation will determine the cause , but raising speed limit has increased the risks, the injuries an deaths on BC roads.

ICBC raised rates 5.5 % last year-thinking of 5% this year  -the costs, the injuries and accidents are out of control on BC roads.Increased speed at all costs. It takes time for a brake check and to follow the posted speed. Productivity is number one in BC.

Accident prevention is way down the list of prorities for this Government.Pay the claims .raise the rates and move on, seems the approach

In reply to by Phil (not verified)

... it's my opinion that the above post really has nothing whatsoever to do with brake checks.

This is unfortunate; the carnage that can result from a runaway truck can be devastating.

Tim, your dissertation on brake checks really wasn't the issue in this event.  What caused this crash was not an equipment failure.  It was an idiot driver travelling away too fast for the downgrade. He was riding his brakes and burned them to being useless.

There are literally thousands of trucks negotiating hills in our province.  If you have to apply brake pressure in order to control your speed, you're going too fast.  Period. The Jakes (engine retarders) should maintain your speed on their own. If not, gear down (and slow down) until they do.  Yes, this is why you may see trucks heading down the Larson hill at 30 to 40 kph while you're going 120.

Besides, trucks are often towing someone else's trailers and heaven only knows what the brakes are like.  When were they last relined? Tractor brakes are an expensive repair but if they are working and the trailer brakes are not, you have an excellent chance of a jack knife ... and that really puckers the sphincter.

As a police officer Tim, you're applying the rule book to a situation caused by a driver who was inexperienced, ignorant, reckless or just plain stupid.  I'm not sure which be he was solely responsible for the crash.  Nobody else. 

In reply to by Hawk (not verified)

You'll note that it was the witnesses credited for the out of adjustment brake idea in the first paragraph and me suggesting that investigation will find out if it is true or not.

I then explain what brake checks are supposed to do.

Finally, I suggest exactly what you claim, even good brakes can't save a bad driver. You have to drive according to the grade.

I guess it all depends on how you read the article.

Just for fun, I've taken steps to contact the collision analyst involved in the incident. I'm hoping to be able to obtain the report and then we'll have a pretty good idea if it was driving or brake adjustment that is responsible.

In reply to by DriveSmartBC

I would be very interested to read the collision analyst's report. Indeed, in every collision there are lessons to be learned but our privacy laws often keep them buried. Sad really. If you look at the airline industry, the in depth studies are usually very comprehensive and have saved countles future events.

May I say that I did not mean to question the intent of your article. Brake checks, pre trip inspections and all of that are very well meaning and probably do prevent even more incidents. The issue I raised was the driver (and his truck owner) who seek to blame someone, anyone, else for what was his own fault. But then, a mark of our society seems to be to never take responsibility for anything.

The analyst's report should be public knowledge, so I'm hoping not to have to do more than ask for it. I don't think that in general these things remain buried, it's just that the media go on to more exciting things and most of us don't go back looking for it as the report likely won't be ready on this for months, especially if the analyst is backlogged.

The Transportation Safety Board does publish their reports for vessels, aircraft, railroad and pipelines. I like to read the odd one having been an analyst for 10 years myself. I'm always curious about how they gather their data to puzzle it all out.

I agree with you, the report on this collision should be an interesting read. I expect it to show just what you suggest, overheated brakes, whether from overuse, misadjustment or both. There were tiremarks in the overhead shots of the scene, so some braking had to have occurred.

I would be very interested to read the collision analyst's report.

No doubt about it, and the CVSE guys will eventually come up with the answers after lenghty analysis.

I guess it's understandable, given the potential liability issues, that they don't rush to judgment or comment until their work is completed. But it is frustrating, waiting as long as we must to discover what went so horribly wrong; usually it's a combination of factors that have accumulated, rather than any one thing (such as too high a speed, for instance).

There were tiremarks in the overhead shots of the scene, so some braking had to have occurred.

Care to offer your opinion on which wheels were actually locking up? Did it look like the trailer - or the tractor - had dynamited?

And how about Jim Baxter's comments in this video clip? I find them misleading and worrisome, in terms of how he understands braking systems. 

Not without looking over the scene I wouldn't. It's too easy to make a mistake.

It's a news article. Jim could have been taken totally out of context and you see what the reporter/video editor wanted you to see. He may also not be able to express himself clearly in the context of the interview. I was asked a question once that left me sitting there wondering how to respond.

I can understand the need to go as quickly as possible to make a buck, but these guys all have radios, the highway has overhead warning signs and it now has variable speed limit signs that were supposedly set to 60 km/h. I think it is difficult to shift the blame onto the road maintenance people.

In reply to by DriveSmartBC

I totally know what you mean by it's a news article, and you sometimes only get to hear what the reporter allows after editing and how things can be taken out of context,,,,,,,BUT

In this case I can say 100% that Jim Baxter is NO Professional Driver, regardless of how long he has driven or held his "Professional License"

How can I make that claim with 100% confidence you ask, and I challenge any truck driver to say I might be even the slightest bit wrong.

Jim Baxter's own words in the first 4 seconds of that news clip, and I quote "I've had brake fade going down the Coquihalla" That right there no matter how the news clip was edited proves he doesn't know how to drive correctly, hence he is NO Professional. There is no mountain road I have driven in millions of kms with a fully loaded Super-B and 63,500 Kgs that I EVER suffered brake fade, brake fade is caused from going to fast for the grade and using your brakes too much, a true professional does not need brakes going down any mountain, or if something occurs where the driver does have to stop or slow down for an emergency, it will be going at a speed that will never be enough to cause brake fade. Even if a driver starts in a gear or 2 too high, using the brakes a bit to get to the proper gear won't heat them up enough for brake fade, and yes even fully loaded.

Then the outrageous comment in the news clip that Jim Baxter (Supposedly said) the the "Construction caused the brake fade????) WHAT? REALLY?  Then he does say "When you pump your brakes up and down you lose your brakes"????? WHAT again??? OMG, and this guy operates a loaded semi. There is ZERO correlation with a construction zone on any hill, up or down that could possibly cause brake fade, that is pure BS, the causes of brake fade is an inexperienced driver or brakes out of proper adjustment, too tight not too loose, which still leads directly to the DRIVER..

I also see in the overhead view the amount of rubber left on the hwy before the semi finally came to a stop, very unlikely to have major brake fade and leave that much rubber, the rubber on the road suggest there was still FRICTION between the brake shoes & the lining, in full out brake fade there would be NO rubber marks as there would be no friction.It does appear on the right side some brake fade may have occurred.

I also am looking forward to the investigation report as it looks to me like he got too much speed going and was texting or dozing off, then realized way too late he had to stop and started plowing into vehicles. We will soon find out.

If the investigation shows that the driver did not check and adjust his brakes or that he was exceeding the speed limit or driving distracted or impaired -how will this change anything?

After thousands of investigations it is fact that excessive speed, distracted and impaired are the major causes of serious accidents on BC roads. . Regulation and penalties have everything covered-what is missing is  ongoing education and enforcement.

If nothing else, thorough investigation of the circumstances will support legal proceedings against those responsible. This would be both from a criminal and liability standpoint.

Should we be really lucky, someone will have and Ah Ha! moment and will be able to make changes to prevent this from happening again.

If you don't understand why it went wrong, you won't be able to fix it.

Your are right Tim. Looking forward to reading the results of the investigation, and the recommendations to prevent this from happening again.

It has been over 3 weeks since this accdent was investigated-do you have the report yet?  There must be many hours invested in this. Thousands of hours?

I'm think that the increase of 50,000 crashes on BC Roads in 2014/15 are taking significant police resources for traffic control and investigation. Its' not just impacting ICBC costs, but police resources-is it not?

Is this a reason for insufficient police presence on enforcement? How do police departments balance all of the requirements and increased workload from increased crashes?

The RCMP media spokesperson advised me that they did not call a collision analyst or reconstructionist to the scene, so there will not be a report done by the RCMP other than the investigation file covering the incident in general and the MV6020 submitted to ICBC.

There is a chance that CVSE mechanical inspectors were called to the scene to assist by examining the truck. I will inquire to see if this is the case, and if so, would they share the report.

It seems to me that this is is a signficant public safety issue. Why would the RCMP not investigate what looked like a horrific accident involving multiple vehicles and injuries?

It makes one wonder what is going on in the BC Ministry of Justice and Transportation.

I said that there would be no report from a collision analyst or reconstructionist, not that no investigation would be conducted.

No doubt that the traffic enforcement personnel that did attend conducted an investigation at the scene and are probably still in the process of finishing it.

Will you be able to communciate the causes and corrective actions? 

Are results of these accident investigations not available to the Public? The reason I'm asking is that fatal accidents occur here in the Comox Valley and the causes are not made public.

A public communication process would help to educate and raise awareness on the causes of serious injury and fatal accidents.

There was  speculation and opinion on the truck that ran away-no brake check, speed limit, driving too fast. It will be interesting to read what the causes were determined to be and what will be done to prevent another similar accident.

How long should the investigation process take?

The police are not in the habit of releasing their reports to the media on a routine basis. The media reports what they think that the public is interested in and to some extent, I think that if it is not sensational, it's forgotten or used as fill.

The results are public, but you may have to work at getting a copy.

Depending on the complexity of the investigation and how busy the investigator is it could take months.

Well the news said CVSE had examined the truck, but was towing it in for further investigation. Take a look at what appears to be 200 plus feet of rubber left on the road from the overhead shot. You will notice on the left (drivers side) the marks are fairly uniform the whole way from where it started braking in the right lane, through to the left lane right up to where the semi stopped. The right marks are much more sporadic, and if you look closely, you will notice only a thin single line as well, off and on. For the brakes on one side to have faded would have meant the brakes were adjusted to tight on the right side and heated up, but seeing the location of the crash, if that was the case, the driver should have experienced brake fade sooner, as semi brakes can actually start on fire if they heat up too much.

That is why I believe the right brakes were adjusted far too slack, of the 4 tires it looks like only one tire was getting friction most of the time, if the marks came from the trailer, and that would be my guess. And like I said already, if it was full out brake fade, there would be no rubber left on the road. So while the driver may have stopped at the brake check, he likely never checked his brakes so his braking power was limited.

Now saying that from what I can see, is the reason I believe the semi was going to fast and not paying any attention, maybe texting or dozed off, then looked up and panicked and slammed his brakes on and swerved, why you ask, because of the left brake marks being mostly solid the entire length. I drove literally millions of kms and have NEVER left brake marks like that, anywhere.

All things considered, and using my driving knowledge with common sense and the visible evidence, I'm pretty sure that will be the findings of the investigation, I just don't see any other outcome from the evidence, but yes, it's only an educated opinion.

Hi Tim,

I appreciate the work you are doing.Like some others on your site,I'm interested in improving safety on our roads, but you are doing the work of communicating issues, almost daily. This a lot of work.

I also appreciate that some of the posters on your site are Professioanal drivers and Driver instructors and their perspectives. I have respect for Professioanl drivers ,who are Professional, and the safety standars developed for this occupation.

Whenever you get an opportunity, it would be interesting to read of the causes of the dramtic accident with the semi and if there is any thing new to be learned.

I understand that the investigation could take months. With 40,000 more crashes in 2015, likely the investigators can't keep up.

Interesting that there were not traffic crash specialists called in to investigate the spectacular semi crash that seriouly injured  drivers , stopped for road construction.. Also interesting that the resport may take months-seems a low priority for such an accident. 

There is an intersting article in Todays Times Colonist questioning accident investigation guidelines and the time required to shut down major traffic routes to investigate accidenst and assign blame.

There should be guidelines.

While some investigations are essential, it would be much more effective in preveting accidents, if traffic was slowed while police hand out tickets and tow vehicles for excessive speed.No need to bring all traffic to a halt, just those who cause crashes. There would be fewer carshes and road closures