Washington, DC, 2/9/06. The National Transportation Safety Board adopted a final report of a runaway truck accident in Pennsylvania that has shown the consequences of improper maintenance on automatic slack adjusters for air brake systems. The board issued 11 safety recommendations aimed at improving training for drivers and mechanics that work with air brakes.
These recommendations arose from a 2003 incident in Pennsylvania in which a dump truck going downhill was unable to stop, resulting in the death of both the truck driver and a child in a car as well as injuries to several pedestrians. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the accident was the lack of oversight by the truck’s owner, which resulted in an untrained driver improperly operating an overloaded, air brake-equipped vehicle with inadequately maintained brakes. Contributing to the accident was the misdiagnosis of the truck’s underlying brake problems by mechanics involved with the truck’s maintenance, a lack of readily available and accurate information about automatic slack adjusters, and inadequate warnings about safety problems caused by manually adjusting them.
“We believe that more than 500,000 vehicles equipped with air brakes may be operated by drivers who, like the Glen Rock driver, have no air brake training and therefore may not be able to operate their vehicles safely,” said NTSB acting chairman Mark V. Rosenker. “This situation needs to change, and change quickly.”
The 21-year-old driver had been working for the trucking company for less than two weeks and had never driven an air brake-equipped. He has received no training on how to drive an air brake-equipped vehicle, which operate differently from hydraulic brakes on passenger cars. In addition, the rear brakes on the accident truck were out of adjustment.
Mechanics who worked on this truck and the driver who worked on a truck involved in a similar accident that occurred in California in 2003 did not look for underlying problems with the slack adjusters or other brake components. Therefore, they misdiagnosed the brake problems, probably because they were not properly educated on the function and care of automatic slack adjusters and how they relate to foundation brake systems. “The warnings in existing materials available to owners, drivers, mechanics and inspectors of air-braked vehicles equipped with automatic slack adjusters have not been successful in communicating the inherent dangers of manually adjusting automatic slack adjusters to correct out-of-adjustment brakes,” the board stated.

The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).