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Are Surge Brakes Legal

author
Maria Johnson
• Sunday, 08 November, 2020
• 11 min read

New rules took effect in April legalizing the use of automatic hydraulic inertia brake systems (surge brakes) on light- and medium-duty trailers within certain limits, even in commercial applications. Previously, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had issued guidance and regulatory interpretations that made surge brakes illegal for use in interstate commerce.

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Contents

“FMCSA, in previous rulings, had declared that surge brakes were not actually brakes, ” says John McClelland, vice president for government affairs, American Rental Association (ARA). “A bunch of states adopted the federal rules for interstate transport simply by referring to them in their statutes,” says McClelland.

The result was a patchwork of regulations that often allowed use of surge brake-equipped trailers by private individuals, while banning them from commercial use. Due to inconsistencies between local regulations, there was a great deal of confusion as to when and where surge brakes were legal.

For trailers with Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings (Gears) of less than 12,000 lbs., the regulation approves surge brake use for vehicle-to-trailer OVER ratios of 1:1.175. The Coalition argued that surge brakes provide a safe, practical braking system for CMV combinations, especially when the trailer is likely to be towed by a variety of vehicles.

For some applications, such as rental, it is impractical and cost prohibitive to install or adapt an electric brake control system on every towing vehicle. The tests covered combinations of representative towing vehicles and trailers widely available in the rental market.

The tests concluded that surge brakes limited to the OVER ratios listed have sufficient braking capability to comply with the agency's stopping requirements. There were no braking stability problems, and they were able to safely hold their position when stopped facing uphill on steep grades.

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Trying to pull multiple trailers with different trucks used to be a “crap shoot,” especially when equipment was picked up at a rental center. David Martha, vice president of operations at Tow master Trailers, also cites the benefits of surge brakes in this situation.

“We offered surge brakes in the past, before the regulation to disallow them, and we had negative feedback from some of our dealers when that happened. To protect yourself, he advises carrying a copy of the new rules in your tow vehicle to show to anyone who is unfamiliar with the changes.

Action: Notice of proposed rule making (NORM); request for comments. Summary: In response to a petition for rule making from the Surge Brake Coalition, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposes to amend the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSA) to allow the use of automatic hydraulic inertia brake systems (surge brakes) on trailers operated in interstate commerce.

Author Topic: Legality of Surge Brake System Jim posted 05-26-2008 10:31 AM ET (US) [This issue came up in the context of another discussion. ]There seems to be some ambiguity about the legality of trailer brakes which are operated by a surge coupling mechanism, both in the United States and in Canada.

Dealer recommended electric over hydraulic brakes on all three axles because Canada may turn you around at border if you only have surge breaks. Chuck Triplet posted 05-26-2008 07:22 PM ET (US) There's a VERY important phrase in the first sentence of that US DOT memo: “operated in interstate commerce”.

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----- Jerry/Idaho Kline posted 05-26-2008 09:48 PM ET (US) Surge brakes are really fun when you are forced “lock Up” the truck brakes and the ABS kicks in. I have looked into this several times over the past few years with no real obvious answers.

The 'ban' was based on surge brakes not being consistent with the 'single valve' brake actuation required by DOT standards for commercial and interstate commerce, which was most likely written originally to apply to air brake systems, which may have required hand (trolley) valve operation in addition to foot brake pedal. It ended up being applied (only by some) to surge brakes, as they're not directly connected to the tow vehicle's hydraulic system.

I guess my system will get repaired (again) instead of going to the expense of converting to electric over hydraulic. However, for the non-commercial for example private owners, surge brakes are legal from VA to Florida and I think this is true in rest of the US but some stated do require annual inspections, and you will have to check the state the trailer is registered in.

Some states will requires brakes on all axles and one is PA. Hope this helps. According to these two articles, Maryland removed that prohibition nine years ago, three years before the federal rules were changed to allow surge brakes in interstate commerce. From some other articles, most states simply referenced federal statutes or DOT rules in their surge brake laws, but since the federal stuff was rescinded, I suppose most of the state rules vaporized as unenforceable (can't enforce a law referenced to another law when the root law no longer exists), except for a few that wrote their own rules.

You can buy parts for surge brake systems at any West Marine. An independent braking system is required when gross weight exceeds 5,000 lbs.

(Source: www.search-vehicles.com)

Independent brake systems are required when the gross weight is 3,000 lbs. Or more and operated at a speed of 20 mph or more must be equipped with brakes ; trailers and semitrailers built after 1966 and with a AVW of 3,000 lbs.

Or more shall be equipped with brakes adequate to control the movement of and to stop and hold such vehicle. Every motor vehicle when operated on a highway shall be equipped with brakes adequate to control the movement, and to stop and hold such vehicle and any trailer attached thereto, including 2 separate means of applying the brakes.

Brakes are required for any vehicle and load with a gross weight over 4,000 lbs. Brakes shall be placed on all wheels, except for trailers not exceeding 3,000 lbs., so long as the total weight on and including the wheels of the trailer does not exceed 40% of the AVW of the towing vehicle, and the combination of vehicles can meet the state stopping requirements.

Every towing vehicle, when used to tow another vehicle equipped with air-controlled brakes, in other than driveway or tow-away operations, shall be equipped with 2 means for emergency application of the trailer brakes. Independent braking system required where gross weight exceeds 3,000 lbs.

Must be equipped with brakes adequate to control the movement of and to stop and to hold the towing vehicle and trailer or semitrailer. Must be equipped with brakes adequate to control the movement of and to stop and hold the vehicle, and so designed as to be applied by the driver of the towing motor vehicle from its cab, or with self-actuating brakes, and a weight-equalizing hitch with a sway control.

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Or more must be equipped with a separate, auxiliary means of applying the brakes on the trailer from the cab of the towing vehicle. Every combination of vehicles shall have a service braking system, which will stop such combination within 40 feet from an initial speed of 20 mph on a level, dry, smooth, hard surface, and shall have a parking brake system adequate to hold such combination on any grade on which it is operated under all conditions of loading.

Kentucky's law does not specifically require brakes on many passenger car trailers, regardless of weight. However, vehicles singular or in combination must be able to stop within distance specified by statute.

Must be equipped with brakes adequate to control the movement of and to stop and to hold the towing vehicle and trailer or semitrailer. Or greater is required to have adequate brakes acting on all wheels of all axles.

All trailers must be equipped with parking brakes adequate to hold the vehicle on any grade on which it is operated. Need not have brakes on all wheels, provided that the total weight of the trailers does not exceed 40% of the gross weight of the towing vehicle when connected to the trailer and the combination of vehicles is capable of complying with braking performance requirements.

Brakes shall be capable of remaining applied for at least 15 minutes on breakaway from the towing vehicle. Independent braking system required when gross weight exceeds 15,000 lbs.

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Or more, or a gross weight that exceeds the empty weight of the towing vehicle, must be equipped with brakes that can adequately control the movement of and stop and hold the trailer or semitrailer. Or more, must be equipped with brakes that are constructed so that they can hold the trailer or semitrailer if it becomes detached from the towing vehicle.

Brakes on a trailer should be designed so that the driver of the towing vehicle from its cab may apply them. AVW towed by an automobile, hereafter sold in this state and operated on the highways, shall be equipped with service brakes on all wheels of every such vehicle.

Independent braking system not required except on trailers coupled by a 5th-wheel and kingpin, and on trailers hauling hazardous materials with a gross weight exceeding 3,000 pounds. Shall be equipped on each wheel with brakes that can be operated from the driving position of the towing vehicle.

All recreational trailers having a gross loaded weight of 3,000 lbs. And manufactured after July 1, 1969, must be equipped with brakes acting on all wheels, and of such character as to be applied automatically and remain applied for 15 minutes in the event of a breakaway from the towing vehicle.

Must be equipped with parking brakes adequate to hold the trailer on any grade on which it is operated, and in all conditions. One of these means shall apply the brakes automatically in the event of a reduction of the towing vehicle air supply.

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No motor vehicle trailer or semi-trailer shall be driven on the ways of this state unless equipped with adequate brakes in good working order and sufficient to control the said vehicle at all times. Every combination of motor vehicle with a trailer or semitrailer when driven upon the roadways of the state shall at a speed of 20 mph be capable, at all times and under all conditions, of stopping on a dry, smooth, approximately level pavement free from loose material, upon application of the foot or service brake, within a distance of 30 feet.

Every trailer and semitrailer must have brakes that can be automatically applied upon break-away from the towing vehicle, and means shall be provided to stop and hold the vehicle for an adequate period of time. Brakes are required on all wheels for all trailers or semitrailers with a gross weight over 3,000 pounds; provided.

Every trailer operated at a speed in excess of 25 mph must have safety chains or brakes adequate to control the movement of and to stop and to hold such vehicle. The safety chains or brakes must be designed so that they can be applied by the driver of the towing vehicle from its cab, and must be designed and connected so that in case of an accidental breakaway the brakes are automatically applied.

Or more shall be equipped with independent braking system adequate to control the movement of and to stop such a vehicle. Independent braking system not required, but combination of vehicles must be able to stop within legal limits.

Every trailer must have parking brakes adequate to hold the vehicle on any grade it is operated, under all conditions of loading and on a surface free from snow, ice, or loose material. Every combination of vehicles must be equipped with service brakes that are capable and adequate to control the movement of and to stop and hold the vehicle with any load and on any grade on which it is operated.

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Every vehicle manufactured or assembled after June 7, 1949, must be equipped with brakes on all wheels except trailers and semitrailers of a gross weight less than 3,001 lbs. Every motor vehicle manufactured after July 1, 1964, and used to tow a trailer or semitrailer must be equipped with a means for providing that the towing vehicle is capable of being stopped by the use of its service brakes.

Manufactured before July 1, 1974, do not have to be equipped with brake action on all wheels provided that: the total weight on and including the wheels of the trailer or trailers does not exceed 40% of the gross weight of the towing vehicle when connected to the trailer or trailers; and (2) the combination of vehicles consisting of the towing vehicle and its total towed load is capable of complying with all performance requirements. Or more must be equipped with brakes that may be applied by the driver of the towing vehicle from the cab and must be of a design such that in case of an accidental breakaway of the towed vehicle, the brakes will be automatically applied.

When operated upon a highway shall be equipped with brakes on the wheels of at least 1 axle, adequate to control the movement of and to stop and to hold the vehicle and so designed as to be applied by the driver of the towing motor vehicle from its cab. Or more, when operated upon the highways of this state, shall be equipped with brakes on all wheels adequate to control the movement of and to stop and to hold the vehicle and so designed as to be applied by the driver of the towing motor vehicle from its cab.

Trailers must be equipped with brakes if the gross weight exceeds 3,000 lbs. Trailers must be equipped with at least 1 red brake light on the rear of the vehicle.

Every trailer and pole trailer, and every vehicle combination must be equipped with service brakes adequate to control the movement of and to stop and hold the vehicle under all conditions of loading, and on any grade incident to its operation. Every combination of vehicles must have a service braking system that will stop the combination of vehicles within 40 feet from an initial speed of 20 mph on a level, dry, smooth, hard surface.

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Every combination of vehicles must have a parking brake system adequate to hold the combination of vehicles on any grade on which it is operated under all conditions of loading on a surface free from snow, ice, or loose material. And more than half of the actual weight of the towing vehicle, need to be equipped with a braking device that can stop and control the trailer.

Breakaway device required that will brake at the time that the trailer breaks away from the towing vehicle and be automatically applied for at least 15 minutes. Independent trailer braking system required where licensed weight of a trailer (excluding tow dollies) exceeds 1,400 kg or over 50% of licensed weight of towing vehicle; not required with motor home towing with a tow bar a motor vehicle weighing less than 2,000 kg that is also less than 40% of motor home OVER.

The emergency or parking brake on a fully loaded combination of vehicles must be capable of bringing the combination of vehicles to a standstill within 16 meters from the point at which the brakes were applied either on a dry and level paved surface made of concrete or asphalt and free from loose materials, or at a speed of 30 km/h. Additionally, the emergency brakes must be capable of holding the combination of vehicles at a standstill while they are fully loaded and facing up or down at a 20% grade.

No person may operate a trailer manufactured before 1985 unless the service brakes apply to the wheels on the opposite ends of 1 axle, or a trailer manufactured after 1984 unless the brakes apply to the wheels on opposite ends of each axle. All trailers and semitrailers with a gross weight of load and vehicle of more than 4,000 lbs.

Must have properly functioning brakes controlled by the operator of the motor vehicle. Breakaway brakes are required on all trailers with a registered weight of over 3000 lbs.

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If the combination of vehicles is 4500 kg OVER or greater, they must be able to be stopped at a distance of 14 m at 30 km/h. Every trailer having a gross weight of 1,360 kg or more must be equipped with brakes adequate to stop and hold the vehicle.

Or less must have brakes adequate to stop within 40 feet while being operated at a speed of 20 mph on a dry, smooth, hard-paved surface free from loose material and having not more than 1% gradient. Must have brakes adequate to stop within 50 feet while being operated at a speed of 20 mph on a dry, smooth, hard-paved surface free from loose material and having not more than 1% gradient.

A combination of a motor vehicle and a mobile home must have brakes adequate to stop within 50 feet while being operated at a speed of 20 mph on a dry, smooth, hard-paved surface free from loose material and having not more than 1% gradient. Every trailer or semitrailer weighing 1,500 kg or more must be equipped with service brakes on all the wheels.

Any trailer or semitrailer weighing less than 1,500 kg is not required to be equipped with service brakes on the wheels. Every road vehicle must be equipped with at least 1 service system allowing sufficient braking force to be applied on each weight-bearing wheel to stop the vehicle quickly in case of emergency.

Every trailer that is part of a combination of road vehicles and that has a mass, once loaded, of 1,300 kg or more or that has a mass, once loaded, of over half the net mass of the motor vehicle by which it is being towed, must be equipped with an independent braking system allowing application of a braking force on each weight-bearing wheel. A trailer or semitrailer that has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (OVER) of more than 1,360 kg or has a OVER that exceeds the OVER of the towing vehicle by more than 50% must have the following type of brake system: (1) if the vehicle was manufactured before 1985, the brakes are applied on wheels on opposite ends of at least 1 axle; and (2) if the vehicle was manufactured in or after 1985, the brakes are applied on opposite ends of all axles.

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