Friday, June 13, 2008

Accidents prompt debate over Idaho's trailer-safety rules

Accidents prompt debate over Idaho's trailer-safety rules

The Associated Press • Published June 12, 2008

The chairman of the Idaho Senate Transportation Committee says he wants to learn more about trailer safety before deciding whether new laws are needed.

"We constantly look at ways to make our highways and freeways safer," Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, told the Idaho Statesman.

On Monday, a flatbed trailer that broke lose from a vehicle on Interstate 84 in Boise hit a large truck. Police say no one was injured, but the highway was closed for several hours.

Last month, a farm trailer swung into the path of a truck near the town of Sweet, about 40 miles north of Boise. The truck vaulted over the trailer and into a creek, killing a father and two of his children.

Idaho State Police say accidents caused by runaway trailers happen too often on Idaho roads.

"In Idaho, there are no regulations that deal with private individuals and towing," said ISP spokesman Rick Ohnsman.

Officials say a simple precaution such as safety chains, which serve as a backup for keeping a trailer attached to the vehicle towing it, could prevent some accidents.

However, police say the only law pertaining to towing a private trailer in Idaho is that it must have working taillights.

Also, loads are not required to be secured, and the state does not inspect trailers before they are registered.

The state does require trailers of more than 15,000 pounds to have working trailer brakes.

"In other states, they require that (chains) be in good working order and usable," said Lt. Bill Reese, deputy commander of Idaho's Commercial Safety Division.

He said drivers in Idaho who lose a trailer or material from it can be cited for littering or careless driving.

"If it's my personal trailer, I'm not required to secure the load," Reese said, "although it's against the law to place debris on the highway."

Commercial vehicles face stricter penalties, but most farm equipment, such as the trailer involved in the fatal crash near Sweet, is exempt from commercial rules, he said.

A Virginia man, Ron Melancon, is trying to get lawmakers across the nation to strengthen trailer laws. He said Idaho has some of fewest regulations in the nation concerning trailers.

"In Idaho, you can go to the junkyard, pick up an axle, put a box on it and get it registered," said Melancon, who began his advocacy after colliding with a trailer.

"No one checks welds. No one checks bearings. And no one checks wiring," he said.

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