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.”

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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