Poor brakes found on many trucks

May 13, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

Howard County police discovered that two-thirds of the commercial trucks they inspected during random safety stops earlier this week had brake defects.

The inspections follow a fatal accident almost two weeks ago in which a dump truck crashed into several cars at a busy Columbia intersection. A 43-year-old woman died in the accident and her 12-year-old son remains in critical condition.

Police said the truck had faulty brakes.

The problem "happens more frequently than we know about," said Pfc. Owen Smith, the police department's commercial truck inspector.

And many truck drivers use citizens band radios to warn their colleagues to detour around the checkpoints, he said.

In Howard, where roads get a high volume of truck traffic, police chose two busy intersections Monday and Tuesday for inspecting the 21 dump trucks and tractor-trailers they pulled over: Marriottsville Road near Interstate 70, and Route 100 at Washington Boulevard.

They found that 14 trucks had some type of brake defect, and six were taken out of service because of severe faulty brakes or no brake lights, said Private Smith. Two drivers were given $510 citations for brake violations. Citations for violations range from $40 to $1,010.

Police periodically conduct the inspections at locations with heavy truck traffic.

When drivers are stopped, they often use the same excuses as ordinary motorists: "I wasn't aware," or "It just went bad," Private Smith said.

Others are under a lot of pressure "because if they don't drive, they don't get paid," he said.

"I think we should do more [inspections], but we can't because of limited manpower," Private Mr. Smith said.

He recommends conducting at least two checkpoints each month.

Inspectors look for proper braking, steering and framing, and adequate tires. They also make sure drivers are wearing seat belts and that their licenses haven't been suspended or revoked, Private Smith said.

Capt. Raymond Cotton, commander of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division for the Maryland State Police, said state police inspected 65,000 trucks across the state last year.

The annual number of trucks involved in fatal accidents in

Maryland has fallen from 101 in 1985 to 78 last year, he said.

"Certainly, 78 is too many, but it reflects a downward trend," Captain Cotton said.

State police and safety advocates, Captain Cotton said, believe the person behind the wheel is more a problem than the faulty equipment.

"Good drivers can often drive defective trucks, but unsafe drivers can't drive safe trucks," he said.

Police say faulty brakes were partly responsible for the accident on April 29 in Columbia.

The dump truck driver, a Finksburg resident, ran a red light at Route 175 and Thunder Hill Road and hit several cars, including one driven by Suzanne Denise Bice, 43.

Mrs. Bice died at the scene. Her 12-year-old son Phillip remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

The dump truck that Gary Bernstein, 37, was driving had faulty brakes and other violations, police said. He was charged with 17 violations, including manslaughter.

He was released from the county detention center on May 4 after posting $15,000 bond, a correctional officer said.

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