Don’t end your camping trip before it begins; trailer safety tips, STGnews Videocast

ST. GEORGE — Have you ever started a vacation and had it immediately turn into a fiasco, caused by something you could have prevented? In the past month, Southern Utah has seen a number of accidents on the roadways involving trailers whipping and rolling and crunching and collapsing.

Over the past year, Washington County alone has a record 23 accidents involving trailers, St. George Police Officer Lona Trombley said. 

“We all get excited for summer so we can go camping,” Utah Highway Patrol Trooper James Curtis said. “But sometimes in the rush of getting everything thrown in the trailer and headed to the mountain, we don’t go over the safety tips.”

The remains of a trailer that flipped on I-15, spilling it's contents into the roadway, Washington County, milepost 36, July 6, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News
The remains of a trailer that flipped on I-15, spilling its contents into the roadway, Washington County, milepost 36, July 6, 2015 | Photo by Devan Chavez, St. George News

The added weight and length can cause a dangerous situation for both those pulling a trailer and for others sharing the roadway with you, Equal-i-zer Hitch, a Provo company, said in a press release. Many accidents are caused by the sway of your trailer.

On July 6, a California woman was driving a Chevy pickup truck pulling a trailer south on I-15 near milepost 36 when the trailer she was pulling began swerving back and forth, UHP Trooper Chris Terry said at the time that she overcorrected and then the trailer flipped.

When your trailer starts to sway, it can be very frightening and dangerous, but there are ways to prevent it, Equal-i-zer said in its statement. Make sure to load the trailer properly, it said. The heaviest items should go centered side to side, and the tongue weight should be between 10 percent and 15 percent of the total trailer weight.

UHP Troopers James Curtis and Mark Cooper met with St. George News at Camping World in St. George to demonstrate how to hook-up properly and what to make sure you check before you start your travels.

See the demonstration, click play play-arrow above

Make sure your trailer hitch can haul the right amount of weight, Curtis said, and make sure to check your tires. One of the most important things is the tires; make sure they are properly inflated. And make sure they are rated to carry the amount of weight you are hauling.

“In St. George we have such high temperatures, but if you don’t have proper tire inflation the constant low tire pressure will cause the tire to constantly squish up and down,” Curtis said. “It creates heat and then you get the tire to blow.”

Another thing to check is the lug nuts, Curtis said. Make sure to pull off the side of the road every 25-50 miles to tighten the lug nuts.

“Just last week I stopped at a trailer, a guy was coming back from camping and had to change out his tire,” Curtis said. “As he was going down the road, he didn’t realize, but a motorist waved him down and said his tire was wobbling back and forth. When he pulled over to the shoulder (of the road) all but two studs had been broken on the trailer. The reason being was he didn’t retorque the tire lug nuts. They became loose and caused the studs to break.

“Luckily somebody helped him out before the tire came off and it ended catastrophic,” he said.

Northbound I-15 at milepost 58 in Cedar City was stalled by the rollover of a pickup truck and trailer. No injuries were reported, Cedar City, Utah, July 2, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, Cedar City News
Northbound I-15 at milepost 58 in Cedar City was stalled by the rollover of a pickup truck and trailer. No injuries were reported, Cedar City, Utah, July 2, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, Cedar City News

Lighting and adequate reflectors are key to towing trailers safely on the road.

“You want to always insure that your lights are working properly,” Cooper said. “Turn signals, brake lights, hazard lights, all the clearance lights that are on the trailer.”

DangerousTrailers.org which, with its founder Ron Melançon, is a public crusader for trailer safety, called a trailer detaching from a vehicle a missile directed at an oncoming vehicle.

Predeparture safety checklist

Before driving, make sure the vehicle and trailer maintenance are current. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, towing can put additional stress on the tow vehicle and offers the following predeparture safety checklist:

  • Check and correct tire pressure on the tow vehicle and trailer
  • Make sure the wheel lug nuts/bolts on the tow vehicle and trailer are tightened on the correct torque
  • Be sure the hitch, coupler, draw bar and other equipment that connect the trailer and tow vehicle are properly secured and adjusted
  • Check that the wiring is properly connected; not touching the road, but loose enough to make turns without disconnecting or damaging the wires
  • Make sure all running lights, brake lights, turn signals and hazard lights are working
  • Verify that the brakes on the tow vehicle and trailer are operating correctly
  • Check that all items are securely fastened on and in the trailer
  • Be sure the trailer jack, tongue support and any attached stabilizers are raised and locked in place
  • Check load distribution to make sure the tow vehicle and trailer are properly balanced front to back and side to side
  • Check side and rear-view mirrors to make sure you have good visibility
  • Check routes and restrictions on bridges and tunnels
  • Make sure you have wheel chocks and jack stands

Safety Tips for Driving with a Trailer

Once you have completed the predeparture checklist, here are some tips to follow when towing a trailer:

  • General Handling — Drive at moderate speeds, avoid sudden stops, slow down when traveling over bumpy roads, railroad crossings and ditches. Make wider turns, release the accelerator pedal to slow down to prevent swaying caused by air pressure and wind buffeting when larger vehicles pass
  • Braking — Allow more distance for stopping, and always anticipate the need to slow down
  • Acceleration and Passing — when passing a slower vehicle or changing lanes, signal well in advance and make sure you allow extra distance to clear the vehicle before you pull back into the lane
  • Backing up — Back up slowly. Because mirrors cannot provide all of the visibility you may need when backing up, have someone outside at the rear of the trailer to guide you whenever possible
  • Parking — If possible, have someone outside to guide you as you park. Once stopped, but before shifting into park, have someone place blocks on the downhill side of the trailer wheels. Apply the parking brake, shift into park and then remove your foot from the brake pedal

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Email: jtempfer@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • munchie July 10, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    The Charger trailer crashed. Why am I not surprised?

  • ladybugavenger July 13, 2015 at 12:26 am

    Go Raiders!

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