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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Safe Towing: Cautionary Tale

We all love our camping hobby for the fun, the freedom, the friendships made, and the frivolity of decorating up a storm. But let's take a break from that for a moment to talk about towing safely. It doesn't necessarily come as second nature, as this cautionary tale will attest.

The link takes you to photos of a flipped trailer and a hitch that broke in half after the driver swerved to avoid a skunk in the road and then hit the brakes in the  attempt to control her swaying trailer. The trailer was totaled and the two people in the tow rig are lucky to be alive.

Lindsey, the driver, has it right when she says she made an instinctual move to avoid the skunk and save her rig from the sway episode it caused, and that "sometimes your instincts are wrong."

Let's all learn something from this, OK?

* Never swerve hard to avoid hitting an animal in the road. Of course we all hate to kill something, but it basically comes down to the animal or you. You and your rig can survive running over something, but a dramatic swerve action will cause your trailer to make a dramatic swerve, too, and put you into a potentially lethal sway. What has to be in your mind is this: STAY STRAIGHT, STAY STRAIGHT, STAY STRAIGHT. Once you introduce a swerve, you can't take it back, and that instinctive turn of the steering wheel can kill you. (Imagine getting pulled off the road by an uncontrollable trailer while traveling between rock wall faces and this river.)


* If you do get into a sway, getting control is completely counter-intuitive. Instinct tells us to brake hard, but braking your tow rig alone, without first applying separate brakes to slow the trailer's axles, will intensify the sway, not stop it.  (Read here for a good explanation of trailer sway and what causes it). The only reliable way to get control is to have and apply your trailer brakes right away, the moment a sway begins. If you don't have them, then you are in trouble, and will be driving for your life.

* In any situation when towing your trailer at speed, DO NOT HIT YOUR BRAKES. By braking the tow rig, you'll slow it down but not the trailer. Then the trailer will sway sideways, jackknife, and readily take over control of the forward momentum to pull your car or truck off the road. (Or, if you're luckier, detach from your tow vehicle from the centrifugal force.)

* Drive attentively, in general. Keep a frequent eye on your mirrors so you always know what's behind you and what might be attempting to pass your trailer. Look way out ahead, too, so you can anticipate moves before having to make them sudden. Stay way behind the vehicle in front of you, and always give yourself a long stopping distance so you can roll to a stop or slowdown instead of braking hard.

* Keep your speed down in the 55 mph range or lower. Vintage trailers weren't made to rocket down the road at today's freeway speeds--we didn't even have freeways when most of these trailers were made. You'll get to your destination soon enough, and the point is to get there in one piece.

8 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. I know the "Rules of the Road" for safety,,, and yet, I have to be honest,,, sometimes I forget to "Think Safe" on long hauls...
    Thank you for putting this out there as a reminder for us experienced trailer towers and as well as a heads up for newbie trailer towers.
    Better safe then sorry.

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  3. Thank you for posting this. It's difficult, but if it is down to and animal or my family, family wins. My kids go camping with me, and I'd prefer to keep us all safe.
    If we do hit a wild animal, should we pull over and call the local animal control to remove it?
    Thanks again.

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  4. Call the highway patrol, not animal control. The highway patrol will get there faster, has more staff to dispatch, and can put an injured animal down if the impact did not kill it.

    We should all be especially alert to the presence of deer, especially at dusk, when they are up and moving about. Same advice for deer as smaller animals: Don't swerve, don't brake, just keep driving straight. The collision damage to the front of your vehicle will be nothing compared to being flipped off the road with your trailer. (I hit one in Montana a few years ago, and knowing this saved my life for sure.)

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  5. Great post. I love your site! Kathy

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  6. Thanks, Kathy. I love that you love it!

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  7. Thank you for sharing this post. Your experiences really help this new to towing gal out.

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  8. Excellent advice for newbies, and great reminders for seasoned towsters. One thing I learned from a truck driving buddy was to think "drive the sides" meaning to keep watch left to right in addition to the straight-ahead road. The sides are where the errant critters will be coming from

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