Spinning our Wheels

Spinning our Wheels is a commuting blog about the challenges of getting around Atlanta by car, bus, MARTA, bicycles and on foot written by transportation reporter David Wickert

Poorly secured trailers a concern this Memorial Day weekend

Count how many vehicles you pass that are towing a boat trailer, horse trailer or utility trailer this holiday weekend. Then, note how many of the trailers don’t have working lights, safety chains or hitch pins (a little pin that fits into the hole of the hitch).

"I guarantee over 50 percent of them won't," said Ron Melancon, an unpaid advocate for trailer safety who telephoned me on Thursday from Virginia.

So, why should I care? For that matter, why should you?

As it turns out, loose trailers cause scores of fatal and injurious accidents nationwide each year. In 2013, at least four people were killed and nearly 15,000 were injured by trailers that broke free from their hitch and smashed into another vehicle.

People like 25-year-old Tiphanie Fletcher of Fayetteville, who died last fall as after an unchained trailer slipped free of the ball hitch of a Chevy Silverado pickup truck, crossed the median of Ga. 92 and struck her SUV head-on, forcing it into a tree.

Be they homemade or manufactured, Georgia does not require small utility trailers to be inspected regularly. Often, those trailers are kept outside over the winter for the metal or wheel ball bearings to rust, and for critters to gnaw on the electric wires.

Most people don't know when they hitch them up again how well their trailer will work. Until it doesn't.

After colliding with a trailer that had no working lights, Melancon embarked on a personal quest 12 years ago to see uniform safety standards imposed and biannual safety inspections required on trailers in every state. He tracks trailer deaths and related legislation on his website www.dangeroustrailers.org.

A first step toward better safety standards, he said, was HB 123, which was passed this year in Georgia. The law, which takes effect July 1, makes it a misdemeanor to tow a trailer without securing it with safety chains in addition to the main hitch.

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