Hazards on America’s highways
Unregulated trailers could be the cause of traffic fatalities
By Joy Hampton
CLAREMORE DAILY PROGRESS
January 8, 2009 —
Last week a trailer broke loose from the pickup that was pulling it and crashed into a bridge on SH 66 just inside Catoosa city limits. Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials reported a support beam on the steel truss bridge had been severed and closed one lane while repairs were made.
If a loose trailer can sever a steel support beam, what damage could it do to another vehicle? To a human body?
Motorist turned activist, Ron Melancon, has been trying to raise awareness nationwide to the problem of unregulated trailers on America’s highways. Melancon was returning home from a visit to his local library with his son May 17, 2003 when he hit the back of a trailer.
The license plate by the stop lamp on the trailer disguised the fact that the trailer bed actually extended two feet beyond that point, causing Melancon to misjudge the distance.
After the accident, Melancon become obsessed with solving the problem. His actions eventually led to legislation requiring reflective tape on the ends of trailers for greater safety.
Melancon did not stop there, however. His studies into problems with unregulated trailers which often improperly hitched or pulled by inexperienced haulers have revealed what he believes is a serious problem on America’s roadways. His web site dangeroustrailers.org is dedicated to saving lives through promoting awareness and fighting for legislation to protect drivers from the hazards of these trailers.
Most states do not regulate trailers under 3,000 pounds, said Melancon.
Documenting the extent of the problem has been challenging because trailers as the cause of a crash are not tracked by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division operating under the US Department of Transportation.
What is known is that in 2004, an estimated 65,000 crashes involving a passenger vehicle with a “trailing unit” occurred according to NHTSA data. Those crashes resulted in 422 fatalities and an “estimated 27,000 persons injured.”
In 2006, there were 363 fatal crashes in which a total of 419 persons were killed. An estimated 12,000 total crashes involving trailers occurred with approximately 20,000 persons injured.
According to Oklahoma Highway Safety data analyst Kathy Evans, 2007 data will be more inclusive in many categories, but numbers of trailers causing accidents is not tracked.