Thursday, August 21, 2008

Accidents put trailer safety in spotlight

Accidents put trailer safety in spotlight

Unlike many states, Idaho doesn't require private trailers to have safety chains, secured loads or state inspections.


Edition Date: 06/12/08

On Monday night, a big rig was hit by a runaway flatbed trailer on Interstate 84, closing the highway for several hours. Luckily, no one was injured.

In May, a father and two of his children died when a farm trailer swung into the path of their truck, which vaulted over the trailer and into Squaw Creek.

It is a scenario that repeats itself too often on Idaho roads, according to Idaho State Police.

"In Idaho, there are no regulations that deal with private individuals and towing," said ISP spokesman Rick Ohnsman.

But on Tuesday night, safety chains kept a camper trailer attached to a truck that rolled on Interstate 84 when the driver lost control. The driver and passenger were hurt, but the trailer was not sent hurtling toward other vehicles.

It is states like Idaho and simple solutions like safety chains that have a Virginia man on a personal crusade to pass towing laws to help make roads safer.

According to Idaho law, the only regulation that applies to towing a private trailer is that it must have working taillights, according to ISP officials.

Safety chains are not required. Loads are not required to be secured. And the state does not inspect trailers before they are registered.

The one law that seems to apply is that trailers more than 15,000 pounds are required to have working trailer brakes.

Lt. Bill Reese, deputy commander of the state's Commercial Safety Division, said some states - such as Colorado, Utah and Oregon - require safety chains.

"In other states, they require that (chains) be in good working order and usable," Reese said.

State Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said he plans to learn more about the crashes to decide whether new legislation is appropriate.

"We constantly look at ways to make our highways and freeways safer," he said.

Ron Melancon, who runs a Web site called, said it is for time all states to do something about the situation, not just think about it.

Melancon, an advocate for trailer safety, began lobbying lawmakers across the United States for stiffer trailer laws after he ran into the back of a trailer being pulled by a truck. He saw the truck but not the trailer until it was too late.

He turned that experience into a mission to make hauling trailers safer.

"In Idaho, you can go to the junkyard, pick up an axle, put a box on it and get it registered," Melancon said.

Based in Virginia, Melancon tracks accidents and laws involving trailers and said Idaho's regulations are among the loosest in the nation.

"No one checks welds. No one checks bearings. And no one checks wiring," Melancon said.

Drivers who do lose a trailer in Idaho can be cited for careless driving or littering a highway, Reese said.

"If it's my personal trailer, I'm not required to secure the load," Reese said, "although it's against the law to place debris on the highway."

"We're always blown away by how people carry things on their vehicles," Ohnsman said. "We'll find people in construction or lawn companies or smaller outfits, and we usually do load securement enforcement because they fall under commercial vehicle laws"

But Reese said most farm equipment, like the trailer involved in the fatal crash in Sweet, is exempt from the commercial rules.

Idaho police officers can apply a general equipment code to private vehicles pulling trailers, but Reese said the law is very nonspecific and hard to apply in most circumstances.

"The bottom line is crashes involving a trailer are difficult to address," Reese said.

David Kennard: 377-6436