Monday, July 13, 2009

Dangerous Trailers... They're Out There!

Dangerous Trailers... They're Out There!
Author: Captain Woody Gore | Posted: 07/05/2009

When it's time to hitch up the trailer and go… you hitch up and go. But do you really understand what you're doing when you're dragging all that weight around behind you? You should because you're betting your life and the lives of other on the road that you do. Regardless, whether you're hauling yard trash to the dump, your ATV's to hunting camp or heading to the boat ramp for a day on the water, improper towing can and often does result in a serious accident.

Trailers including those homemade contraptions being towed on Florida's streets, roads and highways are required to have 1.) A trailer hitch and safety chains/cables capable of handling the weight being towed. 2.) It must have lights, stop lights, and turn signals. 3.) And depending on its weight it will require brakes on one or more axles. Further information can be obtained by checking the Florida Statutes on Motor Vehicles, Chapter 316 State Uniform Traffic Control.

Data collected through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over a five year period indicates there is an average in excess of 68,000 accidents each year involving passenger vehicles towing trailers. The average fatalities from these accidents surpass 440 persons per year. The average numbers of injuries from these accidents exceed 24,000 per year, with an average property damage resulting in over 43,000 per year. The bottom line is… there is no excuse for these kinds of statistics.

Three alarming facts that should concern everyone were revealed in a recent study. First, it confirmed that a good number of drivers have little knowledge or understanding about what's going on behind their vehicle in a towing situation. Second, it revealed most drivers admitted they had no indication as to weight limits, braking, backing, passing, proper set up or how to actually handle a trailer in tow. And to top everything off many felt they didn't need to learn.

Florida Trailer Accidents: Here are a few trailer accidents that were reported in Florida newspapers.

1. Runaway trailer kills boy waiting for bus one boy was killed and two others badly injured Friday when a trailer broke loose from a pickup truck and slammed into a group of youngsters waiting for a school bus. The trailer broke from the truck into a group of about 12 middle school children. Lake Mary, Fl.
2. Trailer breaks loose, sends machine over rail in Port Richey, Fl.
3. Trailer breaks loose in traffic, seriously injuring Largo woman.
4. Loose trailer injures construction workers two highway flagmen.
5. One killed in collision as trailer unhitches. An unidentified man died.
6. Trailer smashes into restaurant.
7. Runaway trailer hits truck fuel truck driver.
8. Trailer strikes girl playing in front yard.

So, what can be about it? It's almost inevitable that during the course of a driver's life they will have an occasion to tow something. So, a good starting point would be to start an education program teaching drivers how to tow a trailer. Perhaps it should become part of the driver license examination and driving test. And while I don't advocate government intervention there are times when things should be standardized. Like nationally standardizing the towing laws requiring all states to adopt the same towing safety equipment, requirements and regulations. It hardly makes sense why we need 50 different laws regulating towing and the safe operation of a trailer. It puzzles me why a trailer in Florida would need brakes but the same trailer in another state would not? Couple this inconstancy with folks unawareness to do it properly and you've got the making of a serious accident with injury or death.

Everyone knows that half of the battle is education and the other half is enforcement. Law enforcement officers have or should have the required training concerning towing laws and requirements are for trailer safety. So why isn't a measure of attention paid to those towing trailers with unsafe hitches, no safety chains, lights, brakes, and faulty tires? We all understand that seatbelts are designed to save lives. And tickets are issued when they are not worn. If that's the case then stopping someone from towing an unsafe trailer should save lives. After all they are endangering themselves and everyone else on and off the road. Isn't prevention of accidents a part of traffic law enforcement?

Where do you go to learn how to safely pull a trailer? Fortunately, there's no shortage of towing information including guidebooks and online tutorials. Here are a few simple to follow suggestions.

Before you hitch up… check your vehicle and trailer owner's manuals for recommended towing capacities, and ensure that both your vehicle and trailer comply with equipment requirements like: hitch, safety chains, lights rear and side view mirrors, and brakes. After you hitch up… perform a walk-around inspection 1.) Is the hitch properly latched and locked: 2.) Are the safety chains properly attached: 3.) Do the lights, turn signals and brake light work: 4.) Are the tires properly inflated: 5.) Is the load properly distributed and tied down?

Driving with care… towing a loaded or unloaded trailer is different from everyday driving. You need to anticipate how the trailer will respond to your every move, especially when slowing down, turning, and stopping. Knowing how to operate trailer brake controls or react when a trailer veers out of control requires training and practice. Always drive at moderate speeds and maintain additional space between you and the vehicle ahead. Your brakes may be capable of stopping you and your load but will always require extra stopping distances. When passing or maneuvering around other vehicles remember to allow extra room. A wider turn radius is also necessary to avoid curbs and roadside obstacles.

If you must back the trailer it's important to remember this is completely different from backing your car or truck and requires practice and skill. Turn the steering wheel in small increments. A slight turn of the steering wheel causes a big turn at the end of the trailer.

Here's a little project for you. The next time you're out and about take notice of the countless numbers of trailers being hauled daily on our roadways. Look closely and you'll see that many are improperly attached to the tow vehicle, don't have working lights, safety chains and are unacceptably maintained. Then ask yourself, why am I riding behind or next to this person trying to kill or injury me or my family?

On a side note: Recently, after doing some investigation, I found a company in Texas named Safety Sentry Inc. ( that manufactures a simple and completely secure trailer locking device. Not only does prevent the trailer from unhitching it adds a level of security from theft. I bring this up because over the last several years I known anglers that launched for a fun day of fishing only to return to the ramp and find their trailer stolen.

This article was written by Capt. Woody Gore owner of SportFishing Unlimited and Outdoor Communications. Capt Gore is a professional fishing and outdoor guide, photo-journalist and speaker. If you would like to contact him please visit his website at or call his cell at 813-477-3814