BILLINGS - Spring has sprung and the weather is nice outside, which means more and more people will be hitting the road with their campers soon. Each year, hundreds of accidents involve trailers or campers. Whether you're towing a trailer, camper or boat, Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) says it's important to properly secure your load.
In August of 2016, Christine Fogerty, a librarian for Big Sky High School, died when a dump truck’s flatbed came loose and crashed into her car.
MHP Trooper Amanda Villa says they often see many trailers incorrectly hooked up with dragging chains which can cause sparks and lead to wildfires.
Villa says the most common causes of trailer crashes are improper or no use of chains, the wrong ball size for your hitch, hitches latched incorrectly and improper electrical light hookups.
Though the biggest factor of trailer crashes, Villa says, is speed.
“I’ve seen to where they’ll break if you’re going too fast downhill just because it puts too much force on those. So if you’re not familiar with towing a trailer I would just take it easy, make sure everything is hooked up correctly. Always have someone go to the back of the trailer and make sure all your lights are working before you hit the road. I know everyone wants to get out and have fun, recreationally, with their campers and boats but we want to make sure that everything's hooked up appropriately so we can get there safely,” Villa said.
It is a law in Montana that drivers must properly secure their load. If you don't know how, Pierce RV walked through the steps to correctly secure your trailer. They say it's not as hard as it looks, it just takes patience and practice.
Ridge Karr, the Fix Ops Production Manager at Pierce RV, says the first step is to center your ball underneath the trailer, then lower the trailer down. Now you’re ready to secure your ball lock and continue lowering the trailer.
“At that point you want to move your safety chains down and your break away cable. You’re going to hook them up into a cross pattern underneath the hitch which creates a cradle, if there ever was an accident and the trailer was to come off the ball for whatever reason," Karr said.
With your chains hooked up, you can attach your break away cable in a straight line to your truck. An important step you don’t want to forget is the locking the pin.
“This pin is just a safety measure to make sure the trailer does not come unlocked from the truck,” Karr said.
Now you can raise your trailer up, connect your electrical power and check that your lights and turn signals work. MHP says they often see drivers towing with the improper ball size for their hitch.
“The mistake people make is assuming that the only way to pull your camper down the road is to hook up the ball and trailer and take off, and there’s other things out there to help you be more safe," Fix Operations Manager James Murphy said.
Murphy says, at Pierce RV they always walk their customers through the process of hooking up their trailer correctly and making sure they have the proper towing capacity.
Murphy says they also recommend using a weight distribution hitch. He says it helps distribute the weight from where you connect your vehicle to the camper. The hitch also provides sway control, so your camper isn't swaying in the lane behind you.
Not all hitches and balls are one size fits all, so Murphy says if you have any questions you can call them at 406-655-8000 or swing by and they'd be more than happy to make sure you're properly set up.