The next installment in our on-going “Road Safety 101: A Weekly Guide to Staying Safe on the Road” blog series discusses how to drive a vehicle with a trailer attached. During the hot summer months, it is not uncommon for people to drive with trailers carrying boats, ATVs, motorcycles, horses, livestock, or other animals and vehicles.
While these trailers may be a relatively easy way to transport other vehicles, driving with a trailer attached can be dangerous, and can pose a serious risk of accidents. Knowing how to drive with a trailer attached, before your head out on your vacation or a long distance, can significantly reduce your chances of being involved in an accident which causes serious injury or losses.
One of the first steps you need to take before traveling with a trailer attached to your vehicle is to make sure the trailer you are planning to haul is safely connected to the hitch, the locking mechanism is locked in place, the cables connecting the brake lights and signals are all secure, and the lights are functioning correctly. If the connections are not properly secured, your trailer could become dislodged en route, which would put any vehicles traveling behind you in extreme danger. Cables that are not connected correctly could cause the brake lights on your trailer to fail, thus increase the chances of another vehicle rear-ending you. You should verify your load does not exceed weight capacities for your vehicle or the trailer itself, and that the weight is distributed properly.
Driving around with a trailer is far different than ordinary road travel. You have to know how long your trailer is, how long your vehicle and trailer are combined, and your trailer’s height so you can avoid hitting bridges or traveling on roads that are not rated for your load.
It is also important you take the time to hone your trailer-driving skills before heading out on the road. Go to an empty parking lot or other wide open rea to practice actions such as maneuvering turns and backing up. When you want the trailer to turn right while backing up, you will need to turn the must be to be sure you have enough room to clear poles and other obstacles along the side of the road. If you try to cut a corner too close, you risk hitting pedestrians, other vehicles and stationary objects.
If you are transporting animals like horses or livestock in a trailer behind your vehicle, it is important you be respectful of the animals you have on board. Animals can exhibit signs of heightened stress levels when traveling in trailers, and are more at risk of suffering injury when going over bumps, traveling along unpaved roads and when it is necessary for a driver to come to a quick stop. You can reduce the chances of your animals sustaining injury by slowing down, taking turns cautiously and doing all you can to avoid hazardous or uneven road conditions.
While drivers who are towing a trailer should always travel at a reduced rate of speed, drivers need to make sure they know the braking distance necessary to come to a stop. Your vehicle, on its own, can stop much faster and more easily than when a trailer is attached. Due to this fact, you will need to keep more distance between you and the vehicle in front of you so you have sufficient time to come to a stop. According to Trucking Truth, a good rule of thumb is to leave one second distance for every ten feet of vehicle while traveling under 40 mph. When traveling above 40 mph it is best to give an additional second. These numbers are accounting for perfect weather and road conditions, if it is raining, snowing, or there are any other non-optimal driving conditions be sure to give yourself extra space. Slamming on the brakes could cause your trailer to skid, slide or jackknife, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. If you are worried about the strain braking may put on your vehicle when traveling with a trailer attached, consider trailer brakes, which can be used to assist with braking. AAA notes that Michigan law requires the use of independent braking systems if the gross weight of the trailer and its cargo exceeds 3,000 pounds.
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