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A closer look at how big rigs handle Duluth’s hills

DULUTH, MN — We’re taking a closer look at semi-safety and how they navigate Duluth’s hills.

This comes after Wednesday’s crash on the Can of Worms that shut down the interchange for more than three hours and sent four people to the hospital.

The Minnesota State Patrol reports it was likely a brake failure that led up to the crash.

From overheating to air system failures there’s no shortage of reasons a big rig might experience brake failure, especially coming down a hill like Trinity Road, which is what we saw Wednesday with this crash involving a semi and 5 vehicles.

“Air pressure loss is what would be your main cause of brake failure. There are mechanical issues. The brakes might be out of adjustment,” said Randall Markon, of Kivi Bros. Trucking, a Duluth based company, while he listed about a half-dozen reasons a semi might lose their brakes.

Even though it was not a Kivi truck involved in Wednesday’s crash, Markon says most semis operate with the same technology, and under similar safety and inspection schedules.

Markon said there are back up systems are in place to help stop an out of control semi.

“The air brake systems on the trucks have automatic braking systems in the event of a loss of air pressure,” he said.

But if the brakes overheat, all bets are off.

“Once the brakes overheat, they lose their braking ability,” he said.

Markon says it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why a semi’s brakes might fail.

“There are so many different factors that come into play. Without investigating each individual case, there is no one thing that is going to cause a brake failure. There are so many combinations of mechanical failures that can happen in addition to the operator’s ability to know how to handle the vehicle.”

Because of that, consistent with industry standard, each one of Kivi’s 350 trucks undergoes an annual inspection, which is a federal mandate. The big rigs also undergo state inspections, and daily checkups by the drivers, which is done before hitting the road.

“It’s a matter of walking around the entire vehicle and you’re crawling into places and looking at the components,” said Markon, describing their daily inspections.

Markon says navigating hills comes with the territory.

“That’s part of the training that all drivers have. That is part of the knowledge testing that you go through to get a permit to train for a CDL (commercial drivers license),” he said.

No matter how many inspections and training is done Markon says scenes like Wednesday’s are sometimes unavoidable.

“It happens all too often that a brake system will fail,” he said.

Still no word on the condition of any of the victims of Wednesday’s crash.

We’re told they were taken to local hospitals with non-life threatening injuries.

Reporter Anthony Matt

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