Auto Focus — June 17, 2010

Take time for trailer safety

Land offers towing tips as boating, camping seasons begin 

Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land reminds Michigan residents to ensure they are towing their trailers safely as they get their campers or boats ready for a trip.

“Michigan summers are made for fun getaways to your favorite lake or campsite with a boat or camper in tow,” Land said. “You can help keep your vacation carefree by properly securing your trailer so it’s ready to hit the road.”

Land reminds people that the law requires trailers or pop-up campers weighing 3,000 pounds or less to have two reflectors, one on each side, as well as safety chains that connect the tow vehicle to the trailer. The chains should be loose enough to allow sharp turns but not drag on the road.

Additionally, before people head out, Land advises them to:

  • check tire pressure on the trailer and tow vehicle;
  •   ensure the wiring is loose enough to make turns without disconnecting or touching the ground;
  •  verify their vehicle and hitch setup is able to pull the size of trailer they have;
  • check all turn signals, and running, hazard and brake lights to see if they’re in working order;
  • make sure all items on the trailer are properly secured;
  • position side- and rear-view mirrors for good visibility;
  • raise the trailer jack, tongue support and any stabilizers and lock in place.

“Make sure your vacation memories are about summer fun, and not roadside repairs or worse,” Land said. “Take a few extra minutes before you leave to look over your trailer so you and your loved ones reach your destination safely. When you’re on the road, use extra caution and allow more stopping time and distance between vehicles.”

Once on the road, people should:

  • give themselves a much greater stopping distance than they would need without the trailer;
  • signal well in advance when passing a slower vehicle and allow extra distance to clear the vehicle;
  • use the automatic gear setting that the vehicle manufacturer recommends for pulling a trailer;
  • avoid sudden starts or stops that can cause skidding, sliding or jackknifing;
  • make wider turns at corners so the trailer doesn’t hit the curb;
  • have another person assist when backing up the vehicle and trailer when possible.

People who want to pull a recreational trailer behind a fifth-wheel camper need a special license endorsement called an “R” endorsement, which is sometimes called a “recreational double.” Anyone 18 years old or older may apply for the “R” endorsement at a Secretary of State office and must pass a knowledge test. The cost is $10. Commercial drivers who already have a double-trailer endorsement don’t need to obtain the “R” endorsement.

Fifth-wheel trailers use a special hitch mounted to the bed of a pickup truck instead of a regular hitch ball mounted to or near the bumper.

Land reminds residents that they can obtain more traffic safety advice and more information about the department’s programs and services at

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