Trailer Safety 101: Everything You Need to Know
By Space Coast Daily // July 11, 2023
Finding yourself in the position where you need to attach a trailer to your vehicle can be daunting, especially if it will be your first time driving with something being towed by your car.
Fortunately, this is a very common occurrence and it is extremely safe when towing a trailer so long as the driver understands what they are doing and follows basic safety tips of the road.
With that in mind, regardless of whether you are towing a trailer for the first time or the hundredth, it’s worth learning everything there is to know about trailer safety tips. By doing so, you can reduce the risk of an accident on the road that can lead to serious injuries or even death.
Is it Legal to Attach a Trailer to Any Vehicle?
In the majority of cases in states around the U.S., it is perfectly legal to tow a trailer behind your vehicle so long as it is under 10,000 pounds. Considering one of the heaviest items the average person may be towing (another vehicle) weighs in at just around 5,000 pounds on average, it’s a safe bet that attaching a trailer to your vehicle is legal.
Keep in mind, however, that attaching a trailer to a vehicle will require extra safe precautions that can vary state by state. The most common of these precautions is that a driver must have reflectors on the trailer, along with tail, brake, and license plate lights connected to the main vehicle.
How Safe Are Towing Trailers?
Considering that the crash fatality rate on roadways in 2022 was about 1.35 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles, it’s only natural to wonder if towing a vehicle puts a person at a greater risk for an accident. The NHTSA estimates that around 20,000 hitch accidents occur annually, but this is a relatively small number of the millions of accidents that happen on a yearly basis. Therefore, so long as a person takes the proper precautions with their trailer, it is perfectly safe to tow behind your vehicle.
Top Safety Tips for Towing and Trailering
As mentioned, following safety tips on the road is the best way to ensure that you are completely protected when towing a trailer. The following top safety tips are the most prominent to keep at the top of mind while towing:
Ensure all lighting connections are secure
One of the most crucial safety tips for any trailer is ensuring that the lighting connections to the towing vehicle are secure. This means that when you hit the brakes on the vehicle towing the trailer, the brake lights on the trailer also turn on. Naturally, this indicates to drivers behind the trailer that you are slowing down, which helps to prevent an accident. A driver is responsible for ensuring the lighting connection is secure when they attach the trailer, so have someone stand behind your vehicle to check and see if the lights work.
Adjust any mirrors on your vehicle
Forgetting to adjust the mirrors on your vehicle is one of the most commonly made mistakes by those towing a trailer. When nothing is being towed, having the mirrors angled slightly in is perfectly normal. However, this may only show the trailer when there is one attached, so a person may need to angle their mirrors outwards to see other lanes.
Pack the trailer according to the regulations
Never exceed the max weight limit of a trailer when you are packing it or attaching something to it. For example, trailers that can tow vehicles come in different shapes and sizes with some only being able to carry a few thousand pounds, whereas others can carry nearly 10,000 pounds. Always make sure you are following the guidelines for the trailer you rented or own.
Check your brakes
A vehicle that is towing a trailer behind it will be heavier than normal, which means bringing that vehicle to a stop will take more effort. As a result, the brakes on the vehicle doing the towing can wear down faster than normal. For breaks that were already on the edge of giving out, this can have serious consequences. Inspect the brakes on your vehicle before hitting the open road with a trailer attached to it.
Look at the tires on your vehicle
Similar to the above point, it’s important to look at the tires on your vehicle to ensure they are not too worn to tow a trailer. Similar to the prior point, the heavier a vehicle is, the more serious the wear and tear on the tires will be. This is why inspecting those tires to ensure they are still road-ready is so important.
Always allow for larger stopping distances
As mentioned, a vehicle that is towing something behind it will be heavier than normal. While this means the brakes will go through a greater strain attempting to stop the vehicle, it also means they need more time to do so. Due to this, a driver needs to leave larger stopping distances between themselves and other vehicles on the roadway. Where you would normally leave a four-second gap between vehicles, consider doubling it as a safety measure.
Create a pre-trip checklist
Finally, before taking off in your vehicle with a trailer attached it’s important to create a pre-trip checklist that covers any necessary maintenance tasks. Whether it’s inspecting the lighting connection, the integrity of the hitch, or simply making sure the trailer is in good condition, always have a pre-trip checklist ready to go.
Stay safe on roadways today
Staying safe while towing a trailer behind your vehicle isn’t complicated and simply requires common sense on behalf of a driver. Tips such as slowing down and leaving a greater stopping distance should come naturally to any safe driver, but some of the above tips may be fresh to the ears. Regardless, use each of the above tips to ensure that you are perfectly safe the next time you hit an open road with a trailer attached to your vehicle.