Avoid Accidents When Hitching and Towing

Posted on May 16, 2007

towing accidentsNorth Carolina car accidents may be caused by drunk drivers, distracted drivers who are texting, bad weather, and in some cases--a negligent driver that is towing another vehicle or trailer behind them. It's nearly impossible to spend a day on North Carolina's roads without seeing another vehicle towing a trailer behind them. Whether towing horses, a boat, or equipment, drivers that are hitching a trailer to their vehicle need to follow extra precautions on the road.

There are specific guidelines for hitching and towing rigs. Whether large or small, towing requires a regular review of the equipment, including the hitch and signals, as well as extra safety and clearance precautions to ensure a secure drive. Pulling a trailer with a truck or other vehicle does not require slow driving, but does require extra stopping room given the added weight of the trailer. It also requires forethought when changing lanes, making turns and reversing.

Before you hit the road with your trailer haul, make sure the trailer is safely connected to the hitch and the brake lights and signals are working properly. First check the hitch. For a regular ball hitch, make sure the tongue on the trailer is properly attached to the vehicle hitch, with the locking mechanism snapped and lock pin in place. A trailer connection to a vehicle should also have two chains, criss-crossing in an X shape, between the vehicle and the trailer.

When making sure the trailer is properly connected to the hitch, check by pulling up on the trailer to try to pull it off the hitch. If you can pull the hitch off, it must be reattached. You should also check the clearance of the connection and make sure any wheel or stand for the trailer is in the up or drive position. Next, you need to check the brake lights and signals. Connect the electrical wires from trailer to vehicle. It is very important the brake lights are working when towing a trailer. Otherwise, motorists are unable to tell when you are slowing and the odds of an accident increases. In the darkness, trailing motorists won’t be able to see you at all. If the trailer and hitch connection is secure and the trailer signals are working, you are ready to drive.

Before proceeding, familiarize yourself with driving the vehicle-trailer combination. You also must be aware of your trailer’s size, including width and height. Also be certain any materials attached to the top of the rig are securely fastened.

It is important to remember the larger the load, the longer it takes to stop. Keep an extra safe distance in front of you and test the stopping power of your vehicle and trailer before you have to stop suddenly. Make sure you are within the vehicle's towing capacity. Some large trailers have a braking mechanism that helps slow the trailer along with the vehicle. It is best to use caution and slow down. Do not make erratic maneuvers or lane changes with a trailer. Unless you are passing, remain in the right lane.

Turning While Towing Can Be Hazardous

The most difficult part of trailer driving is turning. Drivers pulling trailers must overshoot their turns, taking them wide enough so that the trailer's path does not leave the lane or come into contact with street-side poles, signs or curbs. If you start a corner too tightly remain calm and stop. First make sure the roadway behind you is clear, then back up and take the turn again.

Another potential problem is jackknifing. Named for the position of the vehicle and trailer, this is most common when reversing. Jackknifing occurs when the angle between the vehicle and trailer is less than 90 degrees. This can be avoided by never letting the trailer position get beyond the ‘L’ shape. Jackknifing will damage the hitch and trailer. When reversing, proceed slowly, keep movement of the steering wheel to a minimum and remember you can pull forward to straighten out the load.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website provides comprehensive towing safety instructions for all towing situations.

Pre-Departure Safety Checklist:

- Measure tire air pressure - Secure and tighten lug nuts according to torque specifications? - Be sure hitch, coupler, draw bar and other equipment that connect the two vehicles are properly secured and adjusted - Certify that wires are securely connected and loose enough to make turns without disconnecting or damaging the wires - Are running lights, brake lights, hazard lights and turn signals operative? - Test brakes - Fasten cargo on and in trailer - Raise and lock trailer jack, tongue support and stabilizers - Check load distribution to make sure tow vehicle and trailer are properly balanced from front to back and side to side - Look in mirrors for good visibility - Check road routes and restrictions on bridges and tunnels - Make sure you have wheel locks and jack stands

Driving Tips While Towing:

- Use driving gear recommended by manufacturer - Drive at moderate speeds. This puts less stress on tow vehicle and trailer. Trailer instability or sway more likely occurs at higher speeds - Avoid sudden stops and starts that cause jackknifing, skidding and sliding - Avoid sudden steering maneuvers that cause sway or undue side force - Slow down when driving on bumpy roads, railroad crossings or through construction zones - Make wider turns at curves and corners. Because your trailer’s wheels are closer to the inside of a turn than the wheels of your tow vehicle, they are more likely to come into contact with curbs - To avoid swaying caused by air pressure changes and wind buffeting when larger vehicles pass from either direction, release the accelerator pedal to slow down and keep a firm grip on the steering wheel