Friday, May 13, 2011

Group seeks uniform laws for hauling utility trailers

Group seeks uniform laws for hauling utility trailers

Published: Sunday, January 2, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 10:33 p.m.

Eddie Russell said he can’t help but worry every time he attaches a trailer to his vehicle and begins towing it. He wonders if this will be the time it comes loose as he’s driving down the road.

As coordinator of the North Alabama Highway Safety Office, Russell is well aware of what can happen when a utility trailer becomes unhitched and is spinning out of control in traffic.

In Alabama, the result has been the death of 83 people.

“No matter how many times you’ve pulled a trailer, that’s always going to be a worry; it is for me,” Russell said. “I’m always wondering if everything is in the right order, and in the back of my mind, I think about what might happen.”

Jim Martin, manger of the Northwest Alabama Stockyard in Russellville, has pulled cattle trailers, horse trailers and utility trailers for years.

“We take every precaution we can,” Martin said. “That doesn’t always happen with others, though. While traveling, I’ve seen accidents happen because of trailers breaking loose or items on the trailer coming off.”

A trailer-related accident in 2003 motivated Ron Melancon, of Virginia, to start a grassroots movement to promote uniform laws and standards involving utility trailers. Melancon ran into a rear of a utility trailer without taillights. He escaped serious injury but started researching the use of utility trailers and found few laws regarding their use.

The next year, working with state legislators in Virginia, a law was passed requiring reflective tape to be on every utility trailer.

Melancon continued researching trailer safety and became more concerned.

“Every day, at least one person, somewhere in the U.S., is killed by an accident that involves a utility trailer,” Melancon said.

Statistics from the National Highway Safety Office show 322 people were killed nationwide in 2009 in crashes involving a vehicle pulling a trailer. There were 22 fatalities in Alabama, according to the report.

“I wanted to get Congress to do something,” he said. “When I talked with the National Highway Safety Office and insurance companies about this issue, I was told it was a state-by-state issue. My concern is there should be a uniform law governing utility trailers as well as trailer hitches.

“A trailer in New York should have the same standards as one in Alabama. It’s just like a home builder — they have standards and unified codes.”

He said, for instance, secure chains should be hooked from the trailers to the chassis of the vehicle hauling the trailer. Also, he said lights and reflective tape should be required on all trailers.

“It’s nothing more than a matter of safety,” Melancon said.

He is concentrating his efforts on trailers weighing less than 3,000 pounds, which have no regulations. He said there are federal laws already in place regulating trailers weighing more than 3,000 pounds.

“I can understand his concern,” Russell said.

“I’ve seen trailers come loose and even saw a boat break off a trailer and cause a wreck. I can see where something needs to be done and the need for regulations on all trailers.”

Melancon said Virginia is the only state mandating standards for utility trailers.

Working with families who have been affected by fatalities caused from crashes involving utility trailers, Melancon hopes more states will get on board.

“We tried in Hawaii and Louisiana but failed,” he said.

“We have bills pending in Wisconsin and North Carolina that we are hoping to get passed this year. We’re a grassroots movement, but we’re growing and we’re doing all we can to bring light to this problem.”

For details, go to

Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or

By the numbers
By the numbers
  • 1,839 people were killed nationwide in crashes involving vehicles hauling a utility trailer from 2005-09.
  • 65,566 injures were reported from crashes involving vehicles hauling a utility trailer from 2005-09.
  • 83 people were killed in Alabama in accidents involving vehicles hauling a utility trailer from 2005-09.

Source: National Highway Safety Office

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Editorial: Traffic laws can prevent tragedies And Our Letter To The Editor

Editorial: Traffic laws can prevent tragedies

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The thunderstorm that pushed across Pitt County on Thursday brought spells of heavy rainfall, making the morning commute for local drivers a bit more treacherous. While all motorists used their wipers for a clear view, few switched on their headlights as mandated by state law, a requirement intended to make vehicles more visible in inclement weather.

That represents one casual bit of illegal behavior repeated incessantly on area roadways, but another example of habits that can endanger others and contribute to accidents could prove responsible for a fatality. Drivers in eastern North Carolina should do better by one another by adhering to proper practices, just as law enforcement should strive to improve road safety whenever they can.

Tragedy visited Pitt County on Tuesday when a truck moving north on N.C. 43 had its trailer unhinge and collide with an SUV traveling south. Lisa Langemann, a 27-year-old teacher at Bethel Elementary School, was killed in the accident, and her two daughters in the car were injured. The ensuing investigation found that the trailer was homemade and lacked the safety cables and chains required by state law. The other driver has been charged in Langemann's death.

Motorists in Pitt County are likely to have seen such trailers countless times in their travels. Though they must be inspected by the Department of Transportation or the N.C. Highway Patrol, it is not a leap to question how many who use such equipment are even aware that is the case. It means accidents like this one, a wreck that claimed a young life, are more likely than the average motorist might consider.

Safety on area roadways can sometimes seem like a gamble. Narrow roadways with an abundance of traffic and the occasional piece of farm equipment can all contribute to unpredictability when driving. Factor in drivers' unsafe behavior — speeding, eating, talking on cell phones and other distractions — and it is little wonder that AAA Carolinas ranked Pitt County tops in the state for accidents in 2008.

Motorists must accept more responsibility for their habits behind the wheel by learning state laws and following them. Their repeated refusal to do so should inspire area law enforcement to provide additional encouragement through more rigorous ticketing for moving violations. Even the little things — like using the headlights during downpours — can bolster safety on area roadways. That, in turn, could prevent an accident and even save a life.

Our Letter That Was Published!

Letter: Stricter standards for trailers

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I read with interest the Oct. 18 editorial, “Traffic laws can prevent tragedies,” which referenced the tragic loss of a mom, wife and teacher due to a loose utility trailer. This accident was totally preventable had we had an inspection and safety standards for trailers under 3,000 gross vehicle weight rating.

Please note the reason these trailers are not getting pulled over is because the way the law is currently written it is a secondary offense and not a primary. An offender must be committing an offense, like running a stop sign. Then the officer can provide a ticket for not having safety chains.

The clearest example I can provide of the magnitude of the infraction is the following: Would you secure your own child in a child safety seat without using the seat belt, improper level and homemade? In this example, do we allow people to make homemade child safety seats? I ask then why is the person behind you any less important than your own child?

In closing, the Dangerous Trailers Web site has been addressing the total lack of safety standards, quality and training on passenger cars that tow trailers for more than eight years. We have documentation from the highest level of our government and yet nothing on a national level has been done. We know what needs to be done and I am willing to help. We just need the support.


Glen Allen, Va.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tragic Hay Ride Amusement Death Spotlights Minimal Laws and Regulations Concerning Safety and Regard For Life

Posted On: August 2, 2010 by Jeffrey M. Reiff

Tragic Hay Ride Amusement Death Spotlights Minimal Laws and Regulations Concerning Safety and Regard For Life

As an experienced hay ride accident and amusement accident lawyer who regularly investigates and prosecutes hay ride accident cases, I salute the efforts of government officials in Kentucky to investigate safety laws on hay rides after the death of a 44-year-old woman. The victim, Terry Hurley, was killed after a tractor and hay ride wagon carrying 30 people on a farm jackknifed on a hill and began to slide down the hill. Investigators indicated that the tractor began to slide coming down a hill and the trailer then jackknifed at which point the victim was thrown off and struck by a wagon wheel. She was pronounced dead of head and chest injuries at the hospital. Five other people sustained injuries as well. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the victims.

As an attorney who has investigated and prosecuted hay ride cases, I am surprised that there are no stringent regulations concerning who can operate farm vehicles. In this case, Dale Dobson, head of the Farm Safety Program for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture stated that Kentucky has no regulations concerning who can operate farm vehicles. “There are no laws and we don’t need any laws,” he stated.

Ron Melancon, a former medical emergency technician from Richmond, Virginia, has been a stalwart consumer advocate promoting stringent safety regulations to prevent injuries and deaths resulting from defective trailers. Ron regularly collects information regarding deaths and accidents involving trailers and farm vehicles and knows that people operating hay rides or trailers often don’t even know how to work the lights or connect the trailer properly. Ron states, “a lot of trailers out there are just in bad condition.” For more information go to Ron’s website at or visit our website and click on our dedicated subsections devoted to defective trailers and hay ride accidents.

Many trailers are homemade and do not require licenses to operate. Nobody is there to verify that it is safe. Unfortunately, many of the laws being used in 2010 are from the 1920's and 30's. Not so surprisingly, in excess of 400,000 people a year are injured in trailer accidents in the United States and many of these unfortunately involve children and unsuspecting patrons at Halloween hay rides. We recently concluded a case where a young man and his mother were run over by the wheels of a Halloween hay ride amusement ride.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a hay ride, amusement, or defective trailer accident, please contact one of our attorneys for a free no obligation consultation at 1-800-421-9595 or online at

Hayride death spotlights lack of safety laws

Wednesday, Jul. 07, 2010

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Hayride death spotlights lack of safety laws

woman died after hayride crash


As police investigate the death of a woman thrown from a hay wagon Saturday, a Kentucky agriculture official says there are few laws concerning safety on farm vehicles.

Terri Hurley, 44, was killed after a wagon carrying 30 people on a Mercer County farm jackknifed on a hill. Investigators have said the tractor pulling the trailer began to slide coming down a hill and the trailer then jackknifed. Hurley was thrown off and struck by a trailer wheel. She was taken to James B. Haggin Memorial Hospital in Harrodsburg, where she was pronounced dead of head and chest injuries.

Five other people suffered non-life-threatening injuries, a deputy coroner said.

Kentucky State Police are waiting for toxicology reports of the driver.

Dale Dobson, head of the Farm Safety Program through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said the state does not have any regulations concerning who can operate farm vehicles.

"There are no laws, and we don't need any laws," he said.

Dobson said the death rate from farm-equipment accidents has decreased from 50 a year in the mid-1990s to 13 or 14 a year in the late 2000s. The safety program educates farmers on how to prevent accidents and trains emergency responders on how to handle accidents.

"We educate that it is your life, your family, your farm and your responsibility," Dobson said.

Ron Melancon, a former emergency medical technician in Richmond, Va., collects information regarding deaths and accidents involving trailers and farm vehicles, and he said changes need to be made in Kentucky law. People often don't know how to work lights or connect a trailer properly, he said.

"A lot of trailers out there are in bad condition," said Melancon, who runs the Web site "There is no training in how to drive one with people in it; they are meant for cargo."

Melancon said the crashes occur because many wagons used by families are homemade and do not require a license to operate.

"Nobody is verifying what you are building is safe," he said. "We are using 1930 laws in 2010."

Mark Purschwitz, an extension professor in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, said that when a wagon or trailer jackknifes, it is usually because the tractor pulling the wagon could not handle the load.

"People think the tractor just needs to be big enough to pull the load, but it also has to be big enough to stop it," said Purschwitz, who specializes in farm health and safety through the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention.

Because farm work is often shared among a family, including children, Purschwitz said, regulations probably won't change because of deep-held farm traditions.

"There are so many variables and so many different situations that occur with farm work, so the tradition has been to leave it as an issue of personal responsibility," he said.

Melancon began his Internet project in 2003 after he rear-ended a trailer while driving his ambulance. He said the trailer was black with wire mesh and the lights were so low he couldn't see them. He was found not guilty in the collision, began researching trailer accidents and realized how many people were at risk for injury or death because of improper use of farm vehicles.

According to data he has gathered, Melancon said, more than 400 people a year are killed in trailer accidents in the United States. He said people might not realize the frequency of farm-vehicle accidents.

"Newspapers report a freak accident here and a freak accident there, and no one notices it is a national problem," he said.

Purschwitz said calls for reform on farm-vehicle regulations usually come from people outside the world of agriculture. He said some people want to require a license to use farm equipment, while "old-timer" farmers respond that they began operating tractors well before their teen years.

"There has to be a middle ground," Purschwitz said.

Melancon said he has pushed for new trailer laws in Virginia and is pushing for change in other states. Hearing about Hurley's death only reinforced his desire to reform state regulations.

"It is horrific, and it bothers me," he said.

Hurley was a meter reader for American Water Co. She is survived by her parents, Harold and Patricia Ann Hurley of Harrodsburg, and a brother, James Harold Hurley of Burgin.

Services will be conducted at 1 p.m. Thursday at Immanuel Baptist Church in Danville. Visitation begins at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the church. Ransdell Funeral Chapel in Harrodsburg is in charge of arrangements.

Herald-Leader staff writer Karla Ward and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

CSP cites driver for trailer wreck

8/12/2010 6:00:00 AM Email this articlePrint this article
CSP cites driver for trailer wreck

Reid Wright
Journal Staff Writer

A local man was cited for a loose-trailer accident that smashed a sport utility vehicle and hospitalized an Oregon woman Aug. 5 on U.S. 491 near Cortez.

Following a Colorado State Patrol investigation, Kurt Trudeau was issued a citation for careless driving causing injury regarding the incident. It is apparent the fertilizer spreader being towed by Trudeau began to fishtail, a pin came loose and the farm implement separated from the Dodge pickup and drifted into the oncoming lane, colliding with a Toyota 4Runner driven by Feryl Laney, Trooper Joshua Boden said.

According to witnesses, Laney's vehicle then spun counter-clockwise, lost control and flipped end over end - ejecting the woman. The vehicle smashed into a security gate and came to a rest on Laney's leg.

Laney is in stable condition after being airlifted to St. Mary's hospital in Grand Junction, Boden said. President Ron Melancon said accidents such as this are not uncommon. Four hundred nineteen people have been killed in trailer-related incidents in Colorado since 1975, he said. Although the state requires safety chains, there are no other regulations for trailers under 3,000 pounds, he said,

"Why do we have to wait for another person to get hurt or lose their life to do the right thing?" he said.

Further, Melancon said incidents in which trailers come loose but do not cause injury or property damage go unreported.

In this case, the fertilizer spreader is legally classified as a farm implement in the state of Colorado ­- rendering the device even more immune to regulation, Melancon said. In the state of Virginia, such devices are not allowed to travel on the road, he said.

"A farm implement is supposed to be used on a farm," he said. "We all preach personal responsibility. Would you secure a child in a child safety seat the way you secured that farm implement?"

Reach Reid Wright at

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Law

New Virginia Law Effective July 1 Highlights Importance of Trailer Safety
Runaway Trailer Accidents Caused over 15,000 Deaths since 1975 – Most Were Preventable
RICHMOND, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Summer begins this week, and many families are towing their boats and campers to their favorite lake or campsite. Unfortunately, this fun, carefree scenario can become dangerous when folks are not aware of the basics of trailer safety. Since 1988, over 400 people have died every year on America’s roads in trailer separation accidents, with the most common occurrence involving innocent victims, when a trailer detaching from a vehicle becomes a missile directed towards an on-coming vehicle. The results are devastating. Even more unsettling is that the injuries, lost lives and property damage caused by poor safety connections between trailers and passenger cars are totally preventable.
“We have been working to get this law enacted in Virginia since 2004”
The State of Virginia has called attention to this dangerous situation and enacted the strictest law in the nation aimed at preventing accidental separation. Beginning July 1 Virginia law enforcement officers will be handing out $250 fines if the hundreds of thousands of trailer owners in Virginia – including boat trailers, utility trailers, camper trailers, ATV trailers and more – do not have the proper safety connections.
“We have been working to get this law enacted in Virginia since 2004,” says longtime trailer safety advocate and Virginian Ron Melancon of “And with the passage of this bill Virginia is now the model state for trailer safety. We are very appreciative to State Senator John C. Watkins for listening and sponsoring this life-saving legislation.”
A 2006 study by Master Lock shows that most Americans who tow are ill-informed on safe towing practices.
According to trailer safety device expert Karl Pratt -- who was instrumental in helping Melancon effect the current law and agrees that lack of education and understanding about trailer hitch safety is the key cause of accidents -- there are several basic questions you can ask to make sure your trailer connection is secure and permit you to address any dangers before it's too late. Here are the basic trailer connection questions as identified by Pratt, who is the inventor/founder of Safety Sentry Inc. (, a hitch lock safety device that prevents accidental separation of utility trailers from towing vehicles in virtually all circumstances.
Are you thoroughly familiar with your equipment? Is your vehicle and hitch setup able to pull the size of the trailer you have and tow the weight you are carrying? Have you properly distributed the weight of your load inside your trailer? Do you understand the responsible speed you should travel when towing specific weights?
What is the condition of your equipment? Is it getting old? Tweaks and bends in hitches can be signs of stress and potential failure. Trailer balls should be smooth, and scored or rusty balls should be replaced as they will cause excessive wear.
Are you aware that hitch balls come in three different sizes and that the balls must be the right size for the coupler on the trailer you are towing? If you connect a 2-inch ball with a 2-5/16 inch coupler, it may stay connected – or it may fly off when you hit a pothole or a big bump in the road.
Do you know how to connect your safety chains properly? Are yours the right length and correct gauge? If they are too long or too light, your safety chains will be useless to prevent an accident if for some reason the trailer becomes detached. When connected, safety chains should have some slack to permit sharp turns but should not drag on the road. In addition, the chains should crisscross under the trailer. This helps prevent the trailer from dropping to the road by cradling the coupler, in the event the trailer separates from the tow vehicle.
Trailer towing is safe when precautions are taken. Based on his own experience when his trailer became separated on a bumpy road, Pratt advocates a secondary safety device for added protection and peace of mind.
A secondary device is inexpensive added insurance, he says, that can prevent detachment even if the ball doesn’t fit the coupler properly, the safety chains fail, and the coupler locking device is faulty or not locked.
“Irrespective of proper use of chains [which are already mandated in many localities], all trailer towing configurations would benefit from, and should have, a secondary safety device,” concurs
Pennsylvania safety inspection expert Bernie Elder of Compuspections whose firm has decades of experience in inspecting trailers.
Both Pratt and Melancon agree that with more safety awareness and tougher legislation in other states, all too common runaway trailer accidents should decrease dramatically.
“The solution is readily available right now,” says Melancon. “Every loose trailer accident, every death caused by trailers that separate while driving, is preventable right now.”
Stephen Koenigsberg Public RelationsStephen Koenigsberg,

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lawmaker Wants Stricter Rules on Trailer Hitches Posted Wednesday May 12, 2010 2 hours, 14 minutes ago

Lawmaker Wants Stricter Rules on Trailer Hitches

Posted Wednesday May 12, 2010 2 hours, 14 minutes ago

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WTAQ) - A state senator is looking into a possible bill for stricter rules on vehicles that pull trailers. Democrat Dave Hansen of Green Bay hopes to submit a proposal in the next legislative session which begins in January.

It’s in response to an accident last month on the Highway 41 expressway near Green Bay. A trailer broke from a pickup truck, struck a car, and killed its driver – UW-Green Bay student Whitney Radder of Kiel.

The truck driver was given 2 traffic citations for using sub-standard hitches, and towing with improper safety chains. No criminal charges have been filed, and authorities continue to investigate.

Media reports say Wisconsin has the 11th highest number of deaths involving cars that tow trailers. There were 377 such deaths and over 11,000 injuries between 1975 and 2008. And the state DOT said there were 117 citations issued in connection with trailer mishaps in the last 5 years.