Springtime Calls for a Tow Safety Refresher

Before you can start digging in the ground, you must transport equipment safely to the job site. Follow these tips to protect your crew and fellow motorists.

Springtime Calls for a Tow Safety Refresher

 It’s easy to take routine towing tasks for granted. Be sure to complete a walk-around inspection every time you hook up a trailer and carefully secure all loads before heading out to the work site. (File photo)

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A news brief outlining a fatal highway crash in North Carolina jumped out at me and I was momentarily horrified on behalf of onsite installers everywhere. A septic contractor was pulling a mini-excavator down the road when its trailer separated from the tow vehicle, crossed the centerline and collided head-on with a motorcycle, then continued on and struck two other vehicles. The 38-year-old motorcyclist was killed and the 57-year-old contractor was charged with causing a death by improper towing and operating a commercial vehicle without proper licensing.

This nightmare scenario would be concerning to any installer who sends a crew out with trucks pulling equipment to worksites far and wide. It’s easy to take routine hauling tasks for granted, as perhaps this contractor did, and trust in the care and concern exhibited by your hardworking guys and gals. 

But assuming the best safety practices are being followed is foolhardy. And especially in the springtime, when installers are ramping up the busy-season schedule, it’s not the time to take any chances where safe transport of heavy equipment and precious human cargo are concerned. This is the time to double down on safety training.

So here are some tips for safe towing:

Walk-around inspections — there and back 

Anyone can be lulled into complacency when performing the same tasks over and over. But remind your crew that not staying sharp and following all recommended pre-trip inspections can have fatal consequences. Refer to the checklist protocols from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at the end of this story and review all points with your workers during a tailgate safety meeting. Clip the list to the visor in all of your trucks as a reminder. And don’t forget to repeat the inspection when you return to the shop after the day’s work is done.  

Check your connection

Are your hitch receiver and ball in good condition and properly aligned with the trailer tongue? Are you getting reliable electrical connection between the tow vehicle and the trailer to operate lights and electric brakes effectively? Are your safety chains free of wear and corrosion and adequately sized to secure the trailer in the event of an emergency? Test the hitch locking mechanism for proper latching. 

Level and secure the load 

Take your time when you hitch up the trailer. When you drop the tongue on the hitch ball, step back and look at the rig from front bumper to the tail of the trailer. It should be level, indicating proper tongue weight on the hitch and a balanced load. As important as a balanced load, check that equipment is properly secured with chains. NHTSA lists these important elements to preparing the load:

  • Balance weight from side to side. 
  • Secure and brace all items to prevent them from moving during travel.
  • Adjust the height of the tow vehicle and trailer.
  • Apply load leveling (weight distributing hitch bars) as needed.

Watch the wear parts

Towing equipment takes a toll on many moving parts on your trailer. Start from the ground up, making sure your tires are fresh and have ample tread. Look for symptoms of aging rubber, such as checking and cracking between the treads. You may have ample tread but unsafe tires due to age. Avoid mixing and matching tires. Make sure wheel bearings are properly greased; friction is the enemy. Inspect trailer brakes for ample stopping surfaces on drums or pads. Regularly evaluate the components of your trailer’s suspension, including hangars, leaf springs, shackle bolts, U-bolts and axle plates. Look for corrosion on tie downs to secure equipment. Inspect chains and straps and replace as needed. Keep careful records about all trailer maintenance. 

Choose the appropriate tow vehicle

Turn your attention to your tow vehicles and make sure their tow capacity matches the trailer loads. If you have questions about handling a new trailer or piece of equipment, consult your owner’s manual for maximum load and tongue weight of your trailer. Err on the safe side by making sure you are well within tow and tongue limits. As you buy new equipment and trailers, constantly evaluate your truck fleet to make sure you’re still towing safely.

Beware of fading tow performance

Drivers new to towing a heavy load — or those who haven’t pulled equipment in a while — need to adjust to the change in performance characteristics of their tow vehicles when pulling equipment. Effective braking is lengthened significantly. Power off the line or to pass vehicles on the highway can be limited dramatically. Increase following distances and avoid sudden stops or steering maneuvers that can lead to disaster. Slow down when driving on rough roads and make wider turns to account for the length of your truck and trailer combination. 

HITTING THE ROAD

Towing a heavily weighted trailer is a serious business. You and your crew are responsible for the safety the motorists who share the roads with you. Installers have a lot on their minds as they head to and return from their daily jobs. Until you reach your destination, you have to push all the planning for earthwork and assembling septic system components to the back of your mind and focus on safe equipment transport. I wish you a safe and productive summer! 


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers this handy daily safety checklist to share with your installing crew:

- Check and correct tire pressure on the tow vehicle and trailer.

- Make sure the wheel lug nuts/bolts on the tow vehicle and trailer are tightened to the correct torque.

- Be sure the hitch, coupler, draw bar and other equipment that connect the trailer and the tow vehicle are properly secured and adjusted.

- Check that the wiring is properly connected — not touching the road, but loose enough to make turns without disconnecting or damaging the wires.

- Make sure all running lights, brake lights, turn signals and hazard lights are working.

- Verify the brakes on the tow vehicle and trailer are operating correctly.

- Check that all items are properly secured on and in the trailer.

- Be sure the trailer jack, tongue support and any attached stabilizers are raised and locked in place.

- Check load distribution to make sure the tow vehicle and trailer are properly balanced front to back and side to side.

- Check side- and rear-view mirrors to make sure you have good visibility.

- Check routes and restrictions on bridges and tunnels.

- Make sure you have wheel chocks and jack stands.



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