Truck Trailers Equipped with Air Disc Brakes Reduces Stopping Distances

A report out of Lousville, Kentucky in March stated that air disc brakes are becoming more popular on commercial truck trailers, and are gaining significant ground on drum based brake designs.

The report stated that air disc brakes were found on 16% of trucks and 6% of trailers in the US. But this could reach 27% of trucks and 20% of trailers by 2020. Some manufacturers of tractor trailers have already started to install the superior air disc brakes on steer axles to meet the new federal mandate of 250 foot stopping distances.


Experts say that using air disc brakes on steer axles on tractor trailers and on drums on drive axles can reduce stopping distances on a big rig to 215 feet when going 60 miles per hour. Using them on all of the wheel ends and the stopping distance is just 200 feet.

The benefits of air disc brakes are not just for slowing down, either. Air disc brakes are more resistant to brake fade, and the friction material inside the brakes lasts longer. Brake pads can be switched out in just minutes.

Industry experts say that the value proposition for air disc brakes is excellent; a disc pad change can be done in 15 minutes once the tire is off. On a drum it can take as long as an hour. Brake systems that used to cost $1500 per axle can now be done for about 50% of that.

Air disc brakes have even more benefits. The system helps to keep the trailer behind the tractor, which is where it needs to be during an emergency stop. A trailer with disc brakes will stay behind the tractor when braking hard. It will also shorten the stopping distance by up to 1.5 car lengths at 60 MPH. This can be enough to be the difference between a wreck and a close call.

Our View

The NHTSA states that 28% of all crashes in the US are rear end crashes. This leads to 879 fatal wrecks for passenger vehicles and 115 fatal wrecks for trucks each year. It is especially important for tractor trailers to be able to stop as quickly as possible to avoid slowed traffic or other obstacles in the road ahead.

Our tractor trailer crash lawyers in Virginia hope that air disc brakes are installed in more tractor trailers in the coming years so that many truck crashes can be avoided. We have ample experience in truck crash personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits where a tractor trailer crash led to serious injury and death. Hopefully we will see fewer of these tragedies in coming years as brake technology improves.