Trailer Accident Survey Generates Valuable Safety Tips

In an effort to help improve safety of horses and those who travel with horses, USRider has been working with nationally known large-animal rescue experts Tomas Gimenez, DVM, and his wife, Rebecca Gimenez, PhD.

For the past three years, Tomas, professor of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at Clemson University, and Rebecca, an animal physiologist and a primary instructor in technical large-animal emergency rescue, have assisted USRider in gathering and analyzing data about horse trailer accidents. The Gimenezes began collecting data through a survey in December 2003. The research team also culled data from incidents reported in newspapers and Internet postings. The data is being used to formulate recommendations for preventing accidents and enhancing the safety of horses.

Equestrians around the country were urged to help with the research. USRider posted a survey on their website,, and asked all horse owners, trainers, emergency responders, veterinarians, and others who had somehow been involved in horse trailer incidents to participate in the survey simply by logging on and answering some pertinent questions.

More than 200 accidents have been evaluated. The research for this project is continuing and people are welcome to contribute their stories for future use. To participate in the survey, visit The findings from this research have provided some very useful information for improving safety practices for both trailer owners and manufacturers.

"The data showed that the main causes of trailer wrecks are lack of proper maintenance, operator error and equipment mismatch," said Tomas.

Based on the team’s research, USRider and the Gimenezes offer several safety recommendations to those who travel with horses.

With operator error factors--such as driving too fast--causing the majority of trailer accidents, it is imperative for drivers to be very careful and remain attentive. Drive as if you have a cup of water on the floorboard of your vehicle, and stay slightly under the speed limit to make allowances for adverse driving conditions. Also, double the following distance recommended for passenger cars. Be sure to maintain that distance even when cars cut in front of you.

Transportation experts have determined that talking on a cell phone while driving proves to be just as dangerous as driving while impaired. While it is obvious that you should never pull a trailer if you have been drinking alcohol, it is also important that you do not talk on a cell phone while pulling a trailer. 

If your vehicle becomes disabled, continue driving--when possible--until you can pull over to a safe area. Do this even if you have a flat tire and it means destroying a wheel. Wheels can be easily replaced. Stopping on the shoulder of the road is extremely dangerous, particularly on an Interstate highway, and stopping there can put you, your horse, and emergency responders at great risk. Pull over on the grass as much as possible, away from the white line. Even if you know how to change a tire, don’t do it by yourself--call for professional help. Your life is worth the time waiting for help. 

Drive with the headlights on at all times to increase visibility. Apply reflective material to the back of your trailer. In the event that you lose trailer lighting or experience an electrical failure, the reflective material will help other drivers see you as they approach.

Replace your tires every three to five years regardless of mileage. Make sure that tires are rated to support more than the gross weight of the trailer and its contents. Check the air pressure in all tires (tow vehicle, trailer, and spare tires) at least every 30 days. Purchase a high-quality air pressure gauge and learn how to operate it.

If you pull your trailer with a dually truck, do not forget to check the inside tires. Since these tires are "hidden" behind the outside tires, they are easy to neglect. Checking the air pressure of the inside tires is an absolute must. Even if an inside tire is completely flat, it will be supported by the outside tire, making it appear properly inflated. 

It’s imperative to perform regular maintenance on your tow vehicle and trailer. Be sure to have your trailer wiring inspected for uninsulated, loose. and exposed wires and poor connections. This applies to old and new trailers alike. People tend to think that new trailers are automatically trouble-free and might not inspect them very closely. Have your trailer axles serviced annually or every 6,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Make use of the ICE program. ICE stands for "in case of emergency." This very simple program has been designed to aid emergency responders in identifying victims and in determining who needs to be notified. For those who regularly travel with horses, it’s important to make it easy for first responders to know whom to contact for information on handling your horses. To do this, program an entry in your cell phone called "ICE--Horse" with the contact information of someone with the authority to make decisions about the care of your horses if you are incapacitated. 

In conjunction with the ICE program, initiate a power-of-attorney document with a trusted friend or relative. In the event that you are incapacitated, this will provide for emergency medical treatment for your horses. In addition, be sure to have the corresponding Notice to Emergency Responders document. Keep copies of both documents in glove box of your vehicle. (Both forms are available for download free from the USRider website.)

Improper hitching is a common cause of trailer accidents. Be sure the hitch on the towing vehicle is the correct type, size, and rating to match the coupler. Also be sure the hitch is properly installed onto the towing vehicle. Fasten the safety chains and breakaway switch actuating chain securely.

An unbalanced load can cause a trailer to overturn in an accident. When loading a horse trailer, always load the heaviest cargo on the left. If you are only loading one horse, load it on the left side of the trailer. Make sure trailer doors and hatches are secured after loading the horse(s).

To ensure the safety of the animals being hauled, always use shipping boots and a head bumper on your horse(s). 

Carry a current vet-approved first aid kit. Recommendations for a vet-approved first-aid kit are listed in the Equine Travel Safety Area on the USRider website.

"Through unique studies like this and other initiatives," said Mark Cole, managing member for USRider, "we are on a mission to increase the equine community’s trailering IQ. In conclusion, you are transporting precious cargo; one can never be over prepared or too safe."

For additional safety tips, visit the Equine Travel Safety Area on the USRider website at

USRider provides roadside assistance and towing services along with other travel-related benefits to its members through the Equestrian Motor Plan. It includes standard features such as flat-tire repair, battery assistance, and lock-out services, plus towing up to 100 miles and roadside repairs for tow vehicles and trailers with horses, emergency stabling, veterinary referrals, and more. For more information about the USRider Equestrian Motor Plan, visit online or call 800/844-1409.

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