Tuesday, June 10, 2008

DOT: Number of towed trailer wrecks on rise

DOT: Number of towed trailer wrecks on riseCamden rescue personnel work the scene of a fatality that involved a trailer being towed on U.S. Highway 158, Saturday, May 17.

Web site posts reports of trailer accidents

Staff Writer

Monday, June 09, 2008

It's been more than three weeks since Camden man Isaac Forbes was killed in a collision that involved a vehicle towing a trailer. And according to the N.C. Department of Transportation, the number of highway accidents involving towed trailers is on the rise.

Forbes, 67, was traveling west on U.S. Highway 158 in Camden when a trailer under tow by an oncoming vehicle broke free and collided head-on with Forbes' vehicle, according to N.C. Highway Patrol reports. Subsequently, an Elizabeth City man was charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle and unsafe towing.

The number of crashes involving a trailer used for towing boats, utilities, horses, campers and other non-semi trailers increased from 1,363 in 2003 to 2,282 last year, according to DOT. During that period the greatest increase occurred in 2004 when the rate jumped to 1,859 from the previous year.

In the case of the Forbes' accident, the trailer involved was an old hay wagon that was structurally unsound and unsafe to tow, according to the state trooper who investigated the accident.

"Basically the trailer was not structurally sound," investigating trooper Sgt. C.K. Parks said in an interview for this story. "It actually broke free from the tongue. It was a mechanical failure."

Parks said he can't recall a wreck in which the trailer actually broke apart like it did.

"There definitely hasn't been one for quite some time of the severity of this past one," he said.

More often trailer accidents occur as a result of the load falling from the trailer onto the roadway, Parks said.

"One of the biggest things we see is people not securing the load to the trailer," said Parks, adding that trailers with improper lighting also are a cause for accidents.

While the hay wagon was hitched to the truck towing it, additional safety chains that could have prevented the accident were not in use, Parks said. Also, unlike commercial and other private trailers the hay wagon was not required to have a license plate because farm trailers are exempt.

Transportation and law enforcement officials aren't the only ones concerned about the threat that faulty trailers pose to motorists. Take for instance Richmond, Va., man Ron Melancon, who himself was involved in such an accident. Melancon, who is a former ambulance worker, was spurred to action as a result of the accident and has created his own Web site dedicated to tracking and reporting trailer accidents.

Several years ago Melancon was driving when his vehicle struck a trailer being towed by another vehicle ahead of him. No one was in injured the accident, which turned out the trailer did not have functioning tail lights.

Melancon has spent his time since scouring media reports for news of similar accidents and pushing for legislation to improve trailer safety. Many of the news reports he finds he posts for others to read at his Web site www.dangeroustrailers.org. One of Melancon's more recent posts includes information about the May 17 accident involving Forbes.

Other incidents Melancon's site lists involve hay ride accidents and about 50 that involved farm trailers.

Melancon faults a lack of state-by-state legislation requiring license plates to tow a trailer, as well as trailer inspections and training for drivers. He has lobbied Virginia legislators to pass a law requiring reflective tape on trailers weighing less than 3,000 pounds. Despite his efforts, trailer accidents that may have been avoided continue to happen, he says.

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