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Tips for Safe Towing on the Road

Motor vehicle accidents can happen for all kinds of reasons—reckless driving, bad weather, poor road conditions, and hundreds more. One scenario we may not often consider is how dangerous it can be if cargo a moving vehicle is towing suddenly breaks free and strikes another vehicle. This is more than a hypothetical situation—in 2016, 474 people were killed in accidents involving passenger vehicles with rogue trailers.

If you are new to towing, or even if you already have some experience, it is wise to run through a checklist to make sure everything is in place before getting on the road. Our Panama City auto accident attorney shares some basic steps you can take to ensure you are towing cargo safely on the road.

Before Your Trip

Pulling a trailer behind another vehicle requires techniques that aren’t taught in Driver’s Ed. Even the process of hitching and unhitching a trailer from a tow vehicle requires detailed knowledge and forgetting even one step could compromise someone’s safety.

According to Florida Statute 316.515, a towing trailer cannot be longer than 40 feet, wider than 8.6 feet, and higher than 13.5 feet. The overall length of a vehicle and trailer combined should not exceed 65 feet. Double tandem towing—pulling more than one trailer with the same vehicle—is against the law.

Before towing anything, do a thorough check on your tow vehicle and trailer:

  • Ensure your vehicle’s maintenance is up to date: Towing cargo puts a lot of stress in the tow vehicle, so you will want to make sure it is in good working condition before getting on the road. Make sure your vehicle has recently had an oil and filter change, the brakes function properly, and that the engine coolant and transmission fluid are filled to the proper level.
  • Check your tires: Look over all your tires and correct the tire pressure on both the tow vehicle and trailer. Make sure the wheel lug nuts on the trailer and tow vehicle are tightened to the correct torque.
  • Know your vehicle’s weight limits: Check that the weight of your trailer and cargo is within the towing capacity of your vehicle. Your vehicle’s owner’s manual should list the trailer types that your vehicle can haul and the maximum weight it can pull.
  • Ensure the trailer’s lights work: Ensure that your trailer’s electrical wiring system is connected to your vehicle’s. Check all running lights, brake lights, turn signals, and hazard lights are functioning.
  • Choose the right hitch: If your vehicle did not come with a hitch installed, hire a professional to do the job for you. A sturdy, functioning hitch is essential.
  • Match your hitch ball to the trailer: Incorrectly sized hitch balls are a major cause of trailer accidents. Make sure the hitch, coupler, and other pieces that connect the trailer to the tow vehicle are properly secured and adjusted.

Each state has its own laws regarding whether towing requires special permits and licenses, which may be based on the size and weight of your trailer. If you’re traveling through other states, be sure to check their requirements ahead of your trip. We also recommend contacting your insurance company to make sure you have the proper coverage.

During Your Trip

Here are some additional safety tips to keep in mind while towing a vehicle:

  • Buckle your seatbelt—in the unfortunate event your trailer flips over or otherwise causes an accident, you will want to be protected.
  • Drive in the right lane on highways.
  • Stay at or under 65 mph, the maximum speed limit allowed when towing a trailer in Florida.
  • Increase your stopping distance. When towing, you have more momentum than you would without a trailer, so avoid tailgating and use your brakes more liberally than usual.
  • Make wider turns at curves and corners.
  • When backing up, use a spotter.
  • Stay vigilant and frequently check your mirrors to make sure the trailer is in place.

For more information, check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) in-depth guide on hitch systems, towing packages, and driving permits, Towing a Trailer: Being Equipped for Safety.

Our Panama City auto accident lawyers are available 24/7 to help those who have sustained serious injuries in Florida. If you or a loved one have been hurt in a car accident, contact us right away for free and confidential legal counsel regarding your case.

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