States are beginning to address a highway safety issue that previously had little visibility: motorists killed in accidents involving passenger vehicles towing trailers.
An average of more than one person a day dies in such crashes, according to federal data. The collisions often occur when poorly secured trailers break loose and careen into traffic — a problem resonating as the Fourth of July holiday signals arrival of peak moving and recreational boating seasons, according to USA Today.
A Virginia law that took effect last week requires that any vehicle towing another vehicle or trailer have a trailer hitch or similar device strong enough for the weight of the vehicle or trailer being towed.
At least four other states — Alabama, Hawaii, Louisiana and Tennessee — considered similar measures this year, and legislators expect to revisit the issue next year. Also, a Wisconsin state senator says he will introduce legislation next year.
“We’ve heard some really, really awful stories from here and from other states,” says Wisconsin state Sen. Dave Hansen, a Democrat from Green Bay.
Hansen says he was spurred to action by the April 20 death of Whitney Radder, a 19-year-old University of Wisconsin-Green Bay student who was killed when a trailer came loose from a pickup and crashed into her car on U.S. 41 in Howard.
Her death was one of hundreds tracked each year across the U.S. by Virginia traffic safety activist Ron Melancon, the driving force behind Virginia’s new law. Melancon, 46, founder of www.dangeroustrailers.org, has campaigned for stricter laws and inspections of towed trailers since 2003.
“Our best course to prevent these needless injuries or deaths is through education, enforcement and vehicle design engineering to minimize the human error factor,” Melancon says.
Regulations on passenger vehicles towing trailers vary widely from state to state. From 1975 through 2008, 15,211 people were killed in crashes involving passenger vehicles towing trailers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“We are committed to safety,” says Pam O’Toole, executive director of the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers, whose 750 member companies make about 75% of trailers sold in the U.S.