Towing Troubles: Danger On America's Road
New Study of Americans Who Tow Finds Many Lack Recommended Safety Precautions While Towing Accidents, Deaths are on the Rise
MILWAUKEE, Aug. 25 -- You've seen them on the highway -- the oversized boat on a too-small trailer, the overloaded pickup with its cargo ready to topple into the roadway and the rickety camper swaying across the lanes. But did you know the danger they present to motorists around them? Or that many of the Americans who tow don't follow recommended safety precautions?
A new study, "Towing Troubles: Danger on America's Road", from Customer Profiles, Ltd., and Master Lock, tracks the safety -- or lack thereof -- of the vehicles and trailers being towed on the roadways of America. While sales of campers, boats, ATVs and motorcycles are all on the rise, so are accidents involving the towing of these recreational vehicles.
Some 57,000 crashes involving passenger vehicles towing trailers occur annually, according to five-year averages of accident analysis by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association. In 2003 alone, accidents with trailing vehicles resulted in 364 deaths, 14,484 injuries and 40,080 instances of property damage. Both the numbers of deaths and property damages increased in 2003 from the previous year.
The primary dangers on the roadways include towed trailers that get loose, trailers that sway and cause the towing vehicle to lose control, trailers that blow tires and cause the towing vehicle to wreck and improperly tied-down cargo that breaks loose and falls into the roadway, causing accidents for other motorists.
According to Sherline Products Inc., which manufactures trailer tongue weight scales for the towing industry, a customer reported this harrowing experience: "I had a small travel trailer and loaded a number of heavy 5-gallon drinking water bottles in the very back where they would be out of the way during a trip," he said. "After speeding up to pass a truck, I pulled back into my lane and the trailer went into an uncontrollable oscillation. My family was terrified as the car and trailer pitched from one shoulder to the other. I was very lucky to regain control before the rig flipped or went head-on into another vehicle. I just didn't know how dangerous it was or how to load the trailer correctly."
Many Americans Don't Know How to Tow
The study, which included more than 500 safety inspections of campers, boating trailers and RVs around the country, found that many Americans who tow don't follow recommended safety precautions and don't properly prepare their towing vehicles before they hit the road. Key findings include:
-- A majority (51%) of Americans who tow campers, boats or trailers with
ATVs/jet skis/motorcycles do not use the recommended security methods
of a locking device for their coupler and hitch.
-- Nearly 50 percent (48%) of respondents towing boats use only a non-
locking receiver pin to connect their trailer, which is susceptible to
-- Respondents towing campers had the best approach to safety, with 69
percent using both locks and pins to secure their vehicles, 69 percent
using weight distribution systems, 71 percent using appropriately
crossed security chains and 52 percent having a properly leveled
-- Nearly 50 percent (47%) of those towing boats didn't properly cross
their safety chains under the coupler. Properly crossed safety chains
form a cradle to catch a trailer if it becomes unhitched and prevent
it from falling onto the road where it can cause severe vehicle and
trailer damage as well as accidents and injuries.
-- A majority of respondents towing boats or ATVs/jet skis/motorcycles
achieved a moderate or worse ranking on the levelness of their
trailer. For ATVs/jet skis/motorcycles, 15 percent were ranked poor
or extremely poor. An unleveled trailer will reduce the driver's
control of the vehicle and may cause the trailer and consequently the
vehicle to fishtail.
-- More than 50 percent (53%) of towing vehicles and trailers received
only moderate or poor rankings on their electrical systems, which
means that brake lights, turn signals and reverse lights may not work
properly. Additionally, frayed and exposed wires pose a significant
danger. Boat trailers presented the greatest danger, with 17 percent
of their electrical systems in poor or extremely poor condition.
-- Trailer tires are one of the biggest dangers on the road, with 41
percent of tires in only moderate or worse condition. Some 10 percent
of boat trailers had tires in poor or extremely poor condition. Worn,
under-inflated and dry-rotted tires can blow under highway conditions,
leading to dangerous accidents. Forty percent of accidents involving
a passenger vehicle towing a trailer are due to faulty tires.
Cargo strapped to vehicles also is an issue. From items carried in the back of pickups to coolers latched to the back of campers to luggage on the top of the family minivan, carrying cargo requires properly placed tie-downs and high-quality bungee cords.
-- Security of cargo on the trailers also is an issue, with more than 54
percent of campers, 28 percent of ATVs/jet skis/motorcycles and 49
percent of boats ranking as moderate or worse in their cargo security.
-- The security of additional cargo -- loaded in the boats or campers --
was a significant issue, with 32 percent of respondents ranking
moderate and 40 percent ranking poor or extremely poor. This means
coolers, lawn chairs, bicycles, and other typical cargo could easily
fall into the path of an oncoming car.
-- The condition of bungee cords was a major issue -- while 56 percent
were in excellent condition and properly located to hold the cargo, 44
percent were in moderate or poor condition and improperly located --
meaning cords could easily snap or come unhooked and release cargo
onto the roadway.
-- Ratchet tie-downs were a problem for 39 percent of respondents, as
those towing boats or ATVs/jet skis/motorcycles received moderate or
worse marks for the condition and location of the tie-downs securing
The "Towing Troubles" study was conducted with a representative sample of 523 respondents. Master Lock Tow Pros conducted inspections of vehicles towing a trailer, camper, or other items at NASCAR facilities, campgrounds, and boating destinations in June and July 2005.