Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Man pushes for safer trailers

Man pushes for safer trailers

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Reflective tape that costs no more than $10 might have saved the life of Joan McKinney of Rockingham County, says safety advocate Ron Melancon.

McKinney, 51, was driving a tractor on High Rock Road in southeastern Rockingham County shortly after 8 p.m. on Sept. 11 when a truck struck the rear of the trailer she was pulling. The front of the trailer disengaged and sailed over the driver’s seat, striking McKinney on the head and killing her.

William Lynn, the man driving the truck, was unable to see the trailer, which was carrying hay, Trooper A.B. Alcorn of the state Highway Patrol reported.

There were no lights or reflectors on the rear of the trailer, according to Alcon’s draft report.

Between 1975 and 2008, 297 people in North Carolina and 15,213 in the U.S. have died in similar crashes involving trailers, many of which were without reflectors or reflective tape, says Melancon, who created Dangerous Trailers, an organization that pushes for legislation requiring trailer manufacturers to install reflective tape.

A salesman who lives in Richmond, Va., Melancon began working on the issue after he failed to see a trailer with no lights and reflectors and rear-ended it in 2003.

North Carolina law requires trailers 4,000 pounds or lighter have “two red reflectors of a diameter of not less than three inches,” that must be installed “so that each reflector is visible for at least 500 feet when approached by a motor vehicle displaying lawful undimmed headlights at night on an unlighted highway.”

The law, though, fails to specify who is responsible for installing the reflectors.

Fewer deaths would occur if manufacturers were required to equip their trailers with reflector tape, Melancon said.

On Tuesday, the Times-News asked Alamance County’s representatives in the General Assembly — state Reps. Alice Bordsen and Dan Ingle, and Sen. Tony Foriest — what they thought about adding the manufacturer requirement to state law.

Foriest said the issue is not among the items he is focusing on for the next legislative session but he isn’t against considering the idea. “I’m not opposed to doing whatever I can to save lives,” said Foriest, a Democrat who represents Alamance and Caswell counties. “If it can make a difference in the lives of our citizens, I wouldn’t mind being involved.”

“It sounds like that the state has it etched in law that (reflectors) will be there,” said Ingle, a Republican who represents District 64, which covers mostly rural areas of Alamance County.

Many trailers on local roads are homemade rigs and therefore wouldn’t be covered by a change in the law, Ingle said.

It would be more effective, Ingle added, to raise awareness about the current law’s requirements through farmer’s groups like the Farm Bureau.

Bordsen, a Democrat who represents District 63, a boot-shaped stretch that extends from the Alamance County’s northeastern corner through Burlington, said it appears at first glance that state law should be clearer in spelling out who is responsible for installing reflectors. “In principle, I have no opposition, but I would like to know more.”

Bordsen thinks it would be a good idea to bring together manufacturers, retailers, trailer users and other stakeholders to discuss the issue and weigh factors like cost, benefits and possible consequences of changing the law. One issue that could prove thorny, Bordsen said, is the question of how to deal with those who drive trailers from other states into North Carolina.

Melancon successfully pushed for a law in Virginia requiring two or more reflectors or more than eight feet of reflective tape on the rear of trailers. Requiring trailer manufacturers to install quality reflective tape would cost $8 to $10, he said. He is not a fan of plastic reflectors. “The little cheap reflectors snap off and break.”

In other states, manufacturers worried about cost and competition have been fighting his efforts, he said.

At least one major retailer based in North Carolina puts the tape on every trailer they sell.

Since May 2005, reflective tape has been standard equipment on all trailers sold by the Lowes, Inc. of Mooresville, said company spokeswoman Karen Cobb. The tape, Cobb said, conforms to all federal and state requirements.

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