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Activist Shines Spotlight on Tragedies Caused by Runaway Trailers

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I came across this interesting column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that talks about an issue that has been of great concern to me – runaway trailer accidents. Runaway trailers usually occur as a result of not being properly secured to a vehicle and can cause catastrophic accidents with serious injuries or deaths.

This news report is about an activist, Ron Melancon from Glen Allen, Virginia, who has taken it upon himself to document accidents involving passenger vehicles that tow trailers. A 43-year-old retail sales manager, Melancon is working to get national safety standards in place to prevent these tragic accidents from happening. Most recently in Pennsylvania, 36-year-old Michelle Kott was killed on a local highway when a trailer came loose from a truck and crashed into the car she was driving. In fact, this tragedy was similar to a horrific April 2006 accident in Richland, Pennsylvania, where a wood chipper detached from a truck and slammed into a minivan killing 37-year-old Spencer Morrison and two of his 4-year-old triplets.

California is no stranger to these tragic runaway trailer accidents. Statistics on these accidents are not readily available because the government does not keep track of these incidents very well. However, a recent Los Angeles Times investigation identified 540 runaway trailer accidents from news reports and court files between 2000 and 2007. These accidents resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of injuries and at least 164 deaths. It is very likely that there were many more runaway trailer accidents, injuries and deaths that were not reported by news sources.

Ron Melancon says these are by no means “freak accidents.” His informative Web site Dangerous Trailers keeps a running tally of such accidents.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 64,275 such accidents causing 425 deaths and 16,482 injuries in 2005. According to Melancon’s count, between 2003 and 2007, 2000 people have been killed and 120,000 injured in accidents involving passenger vehicles towing trailers.

Melancon says he became involved in this cause after rear-ending a small trailer at night in 2003 because the rear of the trailer did not have reflective material. He simply couldn’t see it in the dark. It was a minor accident, but it motivated Melancon to successfully lobby Virginia legislators in 2004 to pass a law requiring these trailers to be fitted with either two reflectors or 100 square inches of reflective material.

The safety standards for large trailers vary from state to state. No standards even exist for smaller trailers, which are most often involved in these catastrophic incidents, Melancon says. He applauds the efforts of local safety groups that organize one-day safety seminars providing driver training in securely connecting trailers to vehicles and properly attaching safety chains. I agree with Melancon that such training should be made mandatory before people are even allowed to attach a trailer to their vehicles.

Here’s a million-dollar question from Melancon: “Why do people have to keep dying before we act?”

That’s right. Why do our federal authorities wait until thousands die before they take action to pass a safety regulation or improve safety standards? I stand behind Ron Melancon and offer my support to his efforts to make this country’s roadways safer and better for all of us.

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