"It will help to maintain the trailer's straightness in the event it comes off the ball," Medbery says.
Matching the height of the trailer or towable to the tow vehicle also is important. For most trailers, the distance from the bottom of the coupler tongue to the ground should be approximately 18 inches to minimize swaying, Medbery says. In all cases, the trailer deck should either be level or slightly higher at the end nearest the tow vehicle.
Proper loading is also important. "The equipment should be tied down and should be placed forward on the trailer," Martinie says.
The danger of whipping
Placing the load too far back greatly increases the potential for the trailer to sway rapidly back and forth, which is also known as "fish tailing" or "whipping." A good rule of thumb is to place the load so that 60 percent of its weight is located on the front half of the trailer and no more than 40 percent of its weight is located on the back half of the trailer.
Whipping is probably the greatest danger the driver faces when transporting equipment. "Whipping can take you off the ball," Martinie says. "It can also take you off the road depending on how heavy the load is and how heavy your truck is."
It' s important that customers understand what to do if the trailer starts to whip around. They should not slam on the brakes, even though that might be their first instinct, because sudden braking can increase the whipping motion and flip the trailer.
Instead, they should gradually reduce their speed by taking their foot off the gas pedal and very gradually applying the brakes, if necessary. Once the whipping has stopped, they should pull over to the side of the road and shift more weight to the front of the trailer. If the whipping motion is so severe that it pulls both the truck and trailer off the paved road, the driver should grip the steering wheel firmly, let off the gas pedal until the vehicle is traveling at a speed less than 25 mph, then gradually steer the vehicle back onto the road.
Utility trailers present their own challenges. "People leave the store and you don't know how much or what they are hauling around," Martinie says. Because the potential for claims is high, employees should be sure to tell customers that they cannot use the trailers to haul dirt, rocks, sand, sod, bricks, gravel, lumber, firewood, broken concrete, scrap iron or chemicals.
To help employees and customers minimize the potential for accidents, the American Rental Association offers a video "Winning with Trailer Safety" that outlines many tips for trailer safety. ARA Insurance Services also offers a risk-management program, "Ready to Tow," that includes a safety instruction sheet that can be given to customers, a self-inking checklist stamp that ensures your employees and customers go through basic safety checks, and a safety sticker with the five important reminders that can be affixed to equipment trailers.
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