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| Wayne Parsons Law Offices

Why did Michael Davison die at 49 in Kona? He was minding his own business and being responsible. His SUV was slammed by a run-away trailer carrying canoes.

I described it as a "freak accident". I was wrong.

Trailer Hitch Failure Leads to Death of Michael Davison in Kona on Sunday

I now learn that this happens across the country all of the time.

Dangerous trailers.

Michael Davison’s death was a preventable event, a preventable trailer run-away, a preventable wrong way collision and _ most of all _ a preventable death. When I read the first news report of Mr. Davison’s death I felt that shocked sadness of sudden death and I imagined the suffering of Michael Davison’s family. When I learned that his death could have prevented I got mad. I’m still mad. Mad as hell.

In honor of the life of Michael Davison I encourage the Hawaii Legislature and Governor Lingell to check out and then do their job and regulate trailers in Hawaii. People are dying. Is there any higher priority?

There are no regulations on trailers. No regulation means many errors and when you have many errors on a truck hurtling down the highway snaking a bunch of canoes lashed to the trailer, you have death and injury..

After writing about the tragic death of Michael Davison I got a telephone call from a representative of and my eyes opened wide. Like the financial meltdown on Wall Street, like the Bernie Madoff theft and assault on decency, like the food safety crisis that makes peanut butter and tomatoes scary foods, like the Wyeth drug Phenergan amputated the music from the life of Ms. Levine, the lack of regulation is the culprit. That is the curse of the Wall Street Journal: regulation is bad. Regulation stifles inventors and start-up companies. They push to end regulation. They say that if a company is irresponsible the lawsuits will take them down. Then like scoundrel cheating husbands they sneak out back in the dark, put on a different suit of clothes and bribe politicians to eliminate lawsuits against the companies. Dark! True.

Conservatives have promoted this as free enterprise. No one who ever took an econ class about free enterprise could ever support that proposition. Unless they were dishonest.

Back to the trailer in Kona and the canoe and Michael Davison. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spokesman Ian Grossman said no federal regulations or laws pertain to safety chains on utility trailers. So the consumer safety advocates at sent a letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

That was in July 2009. Please write!

Since 1975 …. 15213 people have been killed …… since 1988 over 468,462 injured …. 765,058 vehicles damaged our destroyed. FARS

California has easily accessible Tips on trailers on the INTERNET:

Towing Your Trailer Safely

Perform a safety inspection before each trip. Make sure that:

  • The pin securing the ball mount to the receiver is intact.
  • The hitch coupler is secured.
  • Spring bar hinges are tight with the safety clips in place (load equalizer or weight distributing hitches).
  • Safety chains are properly attached.
  • The electrical plug is properly installed.

People who tow trailers share the same safety concerns as other RV owners. However, a tow vehicle and a trailer form an articulated (hinged) vehicle which presents an additional set of concerns. The weight considerations described on page 30 are very important to safe towing. The tow vehicle must be a proper match for the trailer. If the trailer is properly equipped, it can perform safely under a variety of driving conditions. The tow vehicle should also have enough performance to climb mountain grades without excessive loss of speed. Here are three basic types of trailers:

  1. Conventional travel trailers (includes folding camping trailers).
  2. Fifth-wheel trailers.
  3. Motorcycle, tent, and cargo trailers.

The major difference between the three types of trailers is the way they are hitched.

The Hitch and Sway Control are what I suspect is part of the Michael Davison tragedy:

Hitch Adjustment

If your hitch weight is less than 10 percent of the gross trailer weight, you can compensate for some of this by loading heavy supplies such as tools and canned goods as far forward as possible. If your trailer’s water tank is behind the axle(s), travel with as little water in the tank as possible to reduce weight in the rear. Trailers with water tanks located in front usually handle best when the tanks are full, because the water adds to hitch weight.

Be sure that the spring bars of the load distributing hitch are rated high enough to handle the hitch weight of your trailer, plus a safety margin of at least 10 percent. Check for adequate rear suspension of the tow vehicle. This means that the vehicle sits relatively level prior to hitching the trailer.

Load-distributing hitches are designed to distribute the hitch weight relatively evenly to all axles of the tow vehicle and trailer. The tow vehicle and trailer should be in a level position (attitude) in order for the hitch to do its job properly. Here is how to check:

  1. With the tow vehicle loaded for a trip, measure the distance between the vehicle and the ground at reference points, which you can establish, in front and rear. Keep the figures handy for later use.
  2. Hitch the trailer and adjust the tension on the spring bars so the tow vehicle remains at roughly the same attitude (i.e., if the rear drops an inch after hitching, the front should also drop an inch).
  3. Inspect the trailer to be sure it is level. If not, hitch ball height should be raised or lowered, as necessary. You may need spring bars rated for more weight if you cannot keep the tow vehicle from sagging in the rear.

Safety chains are required for travel trailers. Safety chains are not required for fifth-wheel trailers. The purpose of safety chains is to prevent the trailer from separating from the tow vehicle in event of hitch failure such as a hitch ball that has loosened. The chains should be crossed in an "X" fashion below the ball mount, with enough slack that they do not restrict turning or allow the coupler to hit the ground.

Breakaway switches are also required for any trailer having a gross weight of 1500 lbs. or more and manufactured after December 31, 1955. They are designed to activate trailer brakes if the tow vehicle becomes separated from the trailer. One end of the breakaway switch is attached to an electrical switch on the trailer frame and the other end is looped around a stationary hitch component on the tow vehicle. If the two vehicles become separated, the cable pulls a pin inside the breakaway switch and applies full power from the trailer battery to the trailer brakes.

Even though hitch component failure is rare, the breakaway switch and the safety chains must be in good working order.

The hitch on the motorcycle trailer should be on the same plane as the rear axle on the motorcycle or slightly below. This will help prevent the trailer from pushing up on the rear end when braking. Also, the hitch should be as close to the rear tire as possible to provide a more solid support without interfering with the tire. Anchor the hitch so that two mounts are on each side. One of the two mounts on either side should resist a downward force and one of the two mounts on the other side should resist the rearward pull.

The tongue length on the trailer is generally twice the trailer wheel width but no more than six feet from the axle to the end of the tongue. Good design will allow for good sway control. If the tongue is too short, the trailer will sway. If too long, the trailer will be sluggish and cut corners when turning.

For motorcycle trailers, you should consider a trailer designed for motorcycles because auto trailer tongue weights are too heavy. A trailer with a good aerodynamic design will enhance handling and performance. You also want a low center of gravity.

And Sway Control:

Sway Control

You should have good trailer handling if the weight and hitch adjustments are correct. However, the coupling between a tow vehicle and trailer should also prevent side to side motion for best possible towing comfort and safety. If you detect sway in your trailer, stop and check to see if the load has shifted. Check for suspension problems and make sure the tires and wheels are secure and inflated properly. Be sure the trailer hitch is secure. A small reduction in tire air pressure or a slight increase in tongue weight may help. A sway control device should be included when the hitch is installed. This device helps give the tow vehicle and trailer a "one-vehicle" feel. There are two basic types of sway control systems available:

  • Friction bar—slides in and out and is activated by the motion of the vehicles. When you brake or turn, the trailer weight compresses the bar which then compresses the trailer against the tow vehicle.
  • Dual cam sway control—usually works better for large trailers with heavy tongue weights. The cam action is applied to the spring of the trailer to reduce sway and shifts the weight forward. It also adjusts weight shifts which allows the trailer to follow the tow vehicle.

My promise to those who have had life changed by a dangerous trailer I offer my voice to the clamor for regulation. People are dying. Michael Davison will not have died in vain if we enact preventative legislation.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Truckie D
    Truckie D

    This is something that I'm very much in favor of Wayne. I'd also like to see a couple of other things added -- first, the requirement for a license endorsement to be able to tow a trailer. All too many times on the road I see those who obviously lack even the most basic knowledge of how to drive when towing. I'd also like to see the requirement added for all vehicles that are towing to stop at DOT weigh and inspection stations, just like trucks. Then, maybe, some of the worst of this just might be eliminated.

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