Respect for safety keeps trailers hitched
Here we are, the last day of July, and you’ve again grown used to sharing the road with the summertime RV users.
If you don’t own one or never pulled one, let me draw your attention to something interesting. Notice those two safety chains that are attached to the trailer and the pickup tow hitch?
In theory, if the trailer becomes detached for whatever reason, the safety chains will immediately apply the RV brakes and stop it from running out of control.
Now, ever notice those chains on a big rig? Me neither.
I’ve pulled a family RV thousands of kilometres and never once had it come off the trailer hitch. Think that’s luck? I think luck is for losers. I attribute it to my professional approach.
When the kids grew up and left home the RV was soon to follow. I breathed a big sigh of relief as I watched its tail lights disappear around the corner. The thought of the inefficiency of those two little chains still haunts me, every summer. That’s why you’ll never ever find me lingering anywhere near a Mom & Pop RV, thank you very much.
In my professional driving career, I’ve pulled (before metric usage was law), 20-footers, 26-footers, 40-, 45-, 48-, 53- and a combination setup of one 40-footer and one 20-footer being pulled at one time.
No safety chains anywhere to be seen. No law saying it is required in order to proceed down the highway, or even in town. Zip. Napa. Zilch.
But I am here to tell you, in writing, that big rig trailers do come off at the weirdest of times, and no safety chain would make one whit of difference. True, when the rubber/plastic air lines rip off, the brakes do come on, but lots of time passes in the time period.
Check out the next rig you see going down the road with no trailer attached. See that flat crescent shaped thing on the deck, just in front of the drive tires? The trailer slides into that tiny little hole, and that’s all there is that keep that trailer securely attacked to the power unit.
A pin-shaped gizmo sticks down from the bottom of the trailer and the driver of the power unit backs up and slides that pin into that hole on the crescent shaped fifthwheel and the trailer is locked in place. In theory.
It doesn’t always happen on the driver’s first, or even second attempt. Some drivers are lazy, too. Thinking the two are now one (attached), the driver attaches his air and electrical lines, rolls up the landing gear (the two legs that keep the nose of the trailer from hitting the ground), and pulls away. The trailer doesn’t move. The airlines snap off, and there is hell to pay.
The trailer is now nose down in the dirt or pavement. A forklift or some lifting apparatus is needed to lift the trailer so the legs can (hopefully) be rolled down to hold up the trailer.
More often than not, the legs need to be totally replaced, meaning the trailer is out of service. The rig is fine to drive, but it can’t hook up to a trailer and make money. No air or electrical lines anymore either. They were stretched and snapped off, putting that rig also out of service.
All that damage happened in the mere blink of an eye. An experienced driver always does what is called a “tug test.” He applies only the trailer brakes and tries to pull ahead. If he hooked up successfully, and is also professional, he’ll not be able to move the trailer. That means the pin did successfully slide into the fifth wheel apparatus and it’s now safe to head ’er down the highway.
The bad news is when the driver does not do the tug test, but the weight of the trailer and its cargo is enough to make it feels as though the two units are attached. It all changes at the first turn that rig makes. He turns, and the trailer goes straight and crashes down and does a nose plant. Driver error is the verdict. Big fines.
Hopefully it doesn’t happen on a public road — but it does happen, and all too often.
Another version of the above is when the often “new” or know-it-all driver wants to prove how safety conscious he is. He uses his grease gun and lubes everything he was taught in driving school to lubricate, and then some.
The only problem is too much grease into the jaws of the fifth wheel can quickly add up to a solid lump of matter that a trailer pin will not fully penetrate. The driver backs up, forgets to do a tug test, everything seems peachy keen, so off he goes. Somewhere down the road, that lump of grease lets go, and leaves with the trailer, plus the air and electrical lines. You can imagine the rest. I’ve seen too many examples, and a safety chain would not have made any difference.
Remember when Mom used to say, “Too much is as bad as not enough?” That most certainly applies to hooking up any trailer, be it a rig or the Mom & Pop RV.
They are a wonderful thing to have, but if not respected they can kill in the blink of an eye.
Chains or no safety chains.
I could fill a newspaper with stories about life on the road, but why not share yours? Send them to Driving editor Andrew McCredie at firstname.lastname@example.org
You won’t catch John Stirling getting too close to an RV trailer on the highway: he knows two little safety chains are not going to stop a runaway trailer quickly.