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May 11, 2010

Towing And Trailer Safety Part 6: Plan Your Route And Drive Like A Professional

Fisheye mirrors help eliminate blind spots. Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/sadsnaps/.

Check back on Wednesday, May 19, for the next article—Handling Your Horse—in our continuing series on Towing and Trailer Safety.

Every time you head down the road with your horse in tow, your odds of something unexpected happening go up.

“Someone once told me that if you do this long enough, it’s not if, but when,” said DJ Johnson of Johnson Horse Transportation. “I don’t know that you can prepare for an accident, but proper planning prevents poor performance. Anyone who doesn’t plan is making a big mistake.”

Planning how you get to your destination is just as important as preparing for what you’ll need when arrive.

Ask yourself:

  • How long will I be on the road?
  • Do I need to stop overnight?
  • Is my horse a good hauler? What will make him more comfortable?
  • How many times will I stop along the way?
  • What is the area like through which I’ll be driving? Is it rural or populated?
  • How fast could help get there in an emergency?

Address these questions before you head out your driveway. Plan out your routes and take note of where important features are, such as veterinary clinics, stables that provide emergency or overnight stabling, and qualified mechanics. You should also carry a list of phone numbers for emergency contacts and reliable resources, just in case.

“On the commercial side, there’s honor amongst all people to help each other out,” said Johnson. “We really don’t mind helping people. We get calls: ‘Our truck blew up, where do we lay over?’ We typically know where they can find help if they need it.”

On long journeys, Johnson stressed the importance of having more than one driver and to think about other logistics, like leaving at an appropriate hour.

“Map your journey, know where you’re going, be able to call the right people, use the right equipment that’s maintained properly, and use at least two legal drivers,” advised Johnson. “I’m really lucky to have a lot of great horseman who work for us. I would much rather train a horseman to drive a truck, then a truck driver to be a horseman.”

Tips For The Road

While many truck-and-trailer combinations tow so smoothly it’s easy to forget you’re hauling, drivers must maintain a different consciousness when driving horses around.

“You should be a defensive driver at all times, not an offensive driver at any time,” stressed Johnson. “Take your time, hesitate when you change lanes, let the turn signal blink four or five times. We stress these points over and over again. If you’re thinking about the horses all the time, and you’re a good horseman, you’re aware [while on the road].”

USRider, a company that provides roadside assistance for equestrians, has conducted a trailer accident survey over the past several years. The results show the main causes of trailer accidents include lack of proper maintenance, operator error and equipment mismatch.

Driving Tips

  • Drive as if you have a cup of water on the floorboard of your vehicle.
  • Stay slightly under the speed limit and be aware of adverse driving conditions (snow, heavy rain, wind, etc.)
  • Double the recommended following distance for passenger cars.
  • Refrain from using your cell phone while driving.
  • If you have problems on the road, continue driving until you’re in a safe area to pull over.
  • Drive with headlights on at all times.

"Remember that horses aren't wearing seatbelts, nor are they strapped in such as a child is secured in a safety seat,” said Tom Scheve, co-author of The Complete Guide To Buying, Maintaining, And Servicing A Horse Trailer. “They are standing freely with no means of holding on to anything. They have no idea when you are starting, stopping, slowing or speeding up. If you always keep this in mind, your horses will arrive at your destination a lot happier."

All About Blinkers

Turn signals allow drivers to alert other vehicle operators around them of their intention to change lanes or turn.

While proper use of turn signals may seem like a no-brainer to drivers who utilize them, still more drivers don’t, and that can lead to hazardous surprises and accidents.

“Observing safe driving practices is important for everyone,” said Mark Cole, managing member of USRider. “Proper use of turn signals should be observed in any vehicle, however it is critically important when trailering your horse.”

  • Make sure all signals are working before you hit the road. Check your lights before every trip.
  • Turn your signal on before you make a turn or maneuver, not during.
  • Get into the habit of using signals all the time, not just when other drivers are present.
  • Be aware and turn your signals off when you have completed your turn or maneuver.

“We believe a leading contributing cause of turn signal non-use is in-vehicle distractions, such as talking on the telephone,” said Cole. “Distracted driving is one of the primary reasons for trailer incidents.”

About That Cell Phone

Talking on the phone while driving may seem like a good way to kill two birds with one stone, but killing just may be the right analogy. Recent studies have shown that talking on a cell phone as you drive is potentially as dangerous as driving drunk.

Considering that driving a rig without distraction takes twice as much attention as normal, you may want to think carefully before answering your phone on the road.

On Jan. 26, 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a nationwide ban on texting by drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks or buses. While horse trailers don’t necessarily fall into the “commercial” category, USRider encourages owners to support this ban.

“Driving is an activity that demands close attention. At USRider, while we think no one should text while driving, we urge horse owners to voluntarily comply with this ban while transporting horses,” said Cole. “In addition to the possibility of causing injury or death to their horse, horse owners who text while driving pose a risk to other motorists.”

Many states have also banned texting and cell phone use, except when using a hands-free device. When planning your trip, know the agricultural and driving laws of each state you will traverse.

“Trailering horses is no different than any other aspect of being a good steward toward your animals. It a huge responsibility and should be taken very seriously,” said Cole. “The solution is very simple and low-tech—keep your mind and your eyes on the road, and pull over to a safe place if you need to text or make a call.”

Gadgets Galore

Adding different features to your rig can get expensive, but certain safety add-ons will make a difference when it comes to avoiding accidents. Johnson recommended extra mirrors.

“We have large mirrors on our vans, power mirrors and extra mirrors on our hood so you can see everywhere,” said Johnson. “You can’t have too many mirrors, in my opinion. It’s a great safety factor. I feel naked without them. No truck leaves our shop without the mirrors working.”

Not only do additional mirrors increase your ability to maneuver, but they also decrease your rig’s blind spots. In general, you will have a blind spot directly in front and directly behind your rig, as well as on the sides at about the middle of the rig. “Fisheye” mirrors can help decrease these blind spots, but they may also distort distances.

Installing a camera system is another way to provide additional safety for owners that are frequently on the road.

“Back-up cameras are great for a timid driver who’s not necessarily familiar with trucks and trailers,” said Johnson.

He also added that his rigs don’t leave the shop without a closed-circuit camera system installed. These systems allow drivers to keep an eye on horses while driving and increase the horses’ safety because the driver will notice a problem in the trailer much more quickly.

“Horses are creatures of habit,” said Johnson. “Horses often slip halters, so you catch them doing all kinds of funny things. You catch them every time with cameras.”

Be sure to position any video monitors in a way that they do not obstruct your vision while driving, and by all means don’t let them become a distraction—you have valuable cargo—keep your eyes on the road.

This article is the sixth in an ongoing series loaded with tips for safe towing and travel. Do you have any questions about trailering or anything you’d like to see in this series? Please e-mail coree@chronofhorse.com She would love to hear your thoughts and looks forward to your contributions!

 

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