When you think about the equipment you own, chances are your mind first goes to the machines that are always in use and have brought significant return on investment. But how much time do you spend thinking about the trailers in your fleet? These unsung heroes don’t require a tremendous amount of time and attention. Yet, without them, your machines would remain right where they sit — in the equipment yard.
Here’s another question to ponder: Are your trailers up to snuff? Do they meet all safety requirements? The answers to these questions are important because they could affect your eligibility for insurance, not to mention the rates you pay.
Lights and brakes
Chief among the safety concerns are lighting and brakes. Currently, the laws and regulations regarding lights and brakes are ambiguous at best. The National Association of Trailer Manufacturers (NATM) is working to change that.
“The biggest issue is proper lighting,” says Clint Lancaster, technical director, NATM. “Not only the requirement for lights in specific locations on the trailer, depending on size and weight, but also, that the lights are actually functioning with the proper photo metrics. There is a lot of lighting that’s manufactured off shore that doesn’t meet the minimum brightness requirements.”
Brakes are also a major issue. “There are two different governing bodies where brakes are concerned,” Lancaster notes. “The federal government regulates braking on commercial vehicles. They’re required to have brakes on all axles, or all wheels, for anything with a GVWR over 3,000 lbs.”
Consumer use of trailers, however, is regulated by individual states. “They’re all over the board,” Lancaster says. “There are several states that don’t have any brake laws — you can build a 10,000-lb. trailer and not have any brakes on it if it’s for consumer use. Or you could go to New York and be required to have brakes on a trailer that is 1,000 lbs. GVWR.
“Of the 50 states, 26 of them have adopted the 3,000-lb. GVWR brake requirement,” he continues. “We would like to see that be the standard for everyone.”
Lancaster recommends you familiarize yourself with the laws in your state and ensure your trailers meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. For its part, the NATM is doing its best to achieve some consistency in trailer safety and manufacturing. One of its current efforts is to require its members — approximately 400 trailer manufacturers — to verify compliance with the standards.
“We’ve had a compliance program since 2002. It started as a voluntary program. Members could request an inspection, or an audit, to make sure they’re meeting all the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety requirements that they’re required to by law,” Lancaster indicates.
“[The voluntary program] provided a chance for members to have someone come out to their plant, actually take a look at their trailers, make sure they have all the correct lighting in the right places, brakes, safety chains, proper couplers… there is a three-page checklist,” he explains. “Any discrepancies they had they would need to correct, then show us proof they were corrected and then we would certify them. Every two years, we would go back and do another recertification.
“At last year’s NATM annual meeting, the membership voted to make compliance verification a requirement for membership,” he states. This is important since the trailer manufacturing industry has very low barriers to entry. Often, individuals with a welding background will begin to make trailers, but they don’t understand the complexity of the government regulations.
The compliance program is designed in response to the need to ensure trailer makers meet all safety requirements. Companies that are certified are allowed to apply an NATM compliance decal to their trailers to let consumers know the trailers are built to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.