As the busy summer vacation season begins, now is a good time to discuss the importance of properly towing boats and trailers. Only one year ago a terrible accident took place on the road leading away from a popular North Carolina beach. As a vacationing family from New York was leaving their rental house and heading home, a trailer hauling a pontoon boat disconnected from the vehicle that was towing it and slammed into oncoming traffic. The accident left nine people injured, including a seven-year-old girl who sustained traumatic injuries from which she is still recovering.
Research done by some in the industry discovered that since 1975 there have been more than 16,000 lives lost in trailer-related accidents. More recently, 345 people died in 2011 in accidents due to improperly secured trailers. Though the numbers reveal how dangerous towing trailers can be, most trailer accidents are entirely preventable.
Despite the worrisome numbers, driver safety advocates say that most states, including North Carolina, allow motorists to put homemade trailers on the road without first subjecting the devices to any standard safety testing. Even more surprising is that eight states do not even require that drivers use a safety chain to secure the towed trailer to the back of the car. Thankfully, North Carolina law requires the use of either safety chains or cables. The benefit of this is that even if the primary towing mechanism fails there will still be another means of keeping the trailer from detaching or swinging out into other lanes of traffic.
However, North Carolina law does not require that trailers be registered with the state. According to the North Carolina Division of Motor vehicles, trailers that weigh less than 4,000 pounds (most boat and utility trailers) must have two rear red reflectors that are visible from 500 feet. However, these smaller trailers are not required to have working turn signals. Experts say this rule increases the danger posed to other motorists because often times other drivers are unable to see the lights on the towing vehicle given the size of the item being towed.
Though North Carolina law does not mandate it, safety advocates say that before a driver sets out with a trailer he or she should always perform a series of safety checks. Make sure that all the lights and reflectors are working. Also check the tire inflation and be sure that the hitch is properly secured. Doing even these simple things can help avoid a potentially deadly towing accident in the future.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton & Favaloro personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs as a pro bono service.