Trailer Towing Safety
Heading out to the open country with your camping trailer or boat hitched behind you is one of the best ways to get away from it all. But, if you don’t take care when towing a trailer, you could be setting out on a short-lived adventure.
Backing up your trailer is only one of the challenges you face when towing. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 50,000 trailer towing-related accidents occur every year.
So, what can you do to ensure that you don’t become another trailer towing accident statistic? Here are ten tips to help you enjoy a safe trip towing your camping trailer or boat.
Preparing to Tow
It would be great just to hitch up and go. But that’s how accidents happen. So, here are some pre-towing safety tips to follow before you set out with a trailer in tow.
Stay Within Your Weight Limits
Check the towing capacity of your vehicle and the weight capacity of the trailer. Because exceeding the limits could make the trailer challenging to handle, it could damage your vehicle, and excessive weight will reduce braking performance.
A trailer will usually be labeled with the maximum load and tongue weight. And your vehicle’s owner’s manual will contain towing capacity information.
Check Your Brakes
Larger trailers will have an electric or hydraulic trailer brake system. And it is crucial for safety that the brake system is adjusted to suit the load. If the trailer brakes are not set appropriately, you will have difficulty stopping. And the trailer’s wheels could lock up when you brake.
There will also be an emergency “breakaway” cable on trailers with surge brakes, which will trigger the brakes if the trailer becomes disconnected from the towing vehicle. Checking that the emergency cable is attached correctly should be one of your pre-towing safety checks.
Adjust the Mirrors
Adjust your mirrors before setting off to ensure that you can see the rear of the trailer. Or, if the trailer is wider than the towing vehicle, it would be best to buy some mirror extensions. Tow mirrors will make driving with a trailer safer, and they will help when backing up.
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Check Your Tires
Underinflated tires will cause difficult handling and may cause the tires to get hot and cause a blowout. So, check the tires on both the towing vehicle and the trailer before you set out. The correct tire pressure will be shown on the vehicle’s doorjamb and in the owner’s manual. It is advisable also to check the speed rating of our tires and avoid exceeding that speed.
Check Your Lights
Large trailers will obscure the taillights on your vehicle. And, if other drivers can’t see the rear of the trailer, they may collide with you. So, you must connect the trailer lights correctly and check they are working before you set off. And don’t just assume that the lights are working correctly. Instead, have someone stand behind the trailer to check that the trailer taillights, brake lights, and turn signals are operational.
Distribute Loads Evenly
A trailer load needs to be evenly distributed across the width of the trailer. Around 60% of the weight also needs to be placed over the front half of the trailer. And the tongue weight must be in the region of 10-15% of the total weight. If you get the weight distribution wrong, the trailer may fishtail, or the load may shift.
Use the Right Hitch
Ensure that the hitch on your vehicle is suitable for towing your trailer. If in doubt, check the owner’s manual or ask a trailer company for some advice. It is also critical that the ball on the tow hitch matches the trailer. Incorrectly matched hitch balls are one of the most common causes of trailer accidents.
Driving with a Trailer
You will need to adjust your driving style when towing. And, it goes without saying, you must drive more carefully and adopt more of a defensive driving technique. Here are some tips for safe driving when towing a trailer.
Check Your Route Before Setting Out
There might be restrictions on some of the roads you intend to travel. For example, trailers are not permitted on some roads. And some routes might have height, width, or weight restrictions. So, it is best to check your route before you set out with a trailer, especially if you are towing a larger trailer.
Allow for Longer Stopping Distances
The added weight of the trailer could significantly reduce your stopping distance. So, leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front. Remember to start braking early for intersections, too. And be extra-vigilant of what is happening on the road up ahead of you.
Avoid Sudden Turns
You might sometimes get away with last-minute decisions when driving a car. But, when you are towing a trailer, last-minute changes of direction could be disastrous. Indeed, attempting to make sudden turns could wind up with your vehicle, trailer, or both upside down.
Keep Checking the Trailer
Check your mirrors frequently to ensure that all is well with the trailer. And stop if something doesn’t look or feel right. If you don’t watch the trailer, you might be the last person to realize that you have lost some of your load or your boat is about to tip off the side of the trailer.
Check Local Trailer Towing Regulations
When traveling long distances, it would be wise to check on local trailer towing laws. Some states have weight, height, and width restrictions. And some areas have speed limits for vehicles towing trailers.
Make Wider Turns
When you take a turn, the trailer’s wheels will pass closer to the curbs than the wheels of your towing vehicle. So, you will need to take all turns wider than you usually would. And don’t forget the height of the trailer when you go under any low bridges or you pull into a gas station.
Drive in the Right Lane
Use the right lane on highways as much as you can. Being in the right lane allows other vehicles to pass you. And you can use the right shoulder to give you extra stopping space should you need to stop in an emergency.
Practice Before You Hit the Busy Roads
Your vehicle will feel and behave noticeably differently when you are towing a trailer. And you will need to get used to the extra length and weight. So, if your first trip out with a trailer will be a long journey, get some towing practice in first.
Use a Spotter When Backing Up
Backing up with a trailer can be tricky. And, because your view is restricted, it can be dangerous, too. So, it is advisable to have someone acting as a spotter when backing up with a large trailer.
With practice, anyone can get the hang of backing up a trailer. But it helps if you know some of the tricks. So, here is an infographic to help you learn to back up a trailer like a pro!
Infographic courtesy of: Say Insurance.
We hope that you found the above trailer towing safety tips helpful. If you did, please do share this page with your friends on social media. After all, there may be some first-time trailer users who will benefit from reading these tips. And you might even know some old hands who could do with reminding about trailer towing safety!
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