RV Trailer Fishtails and Rolls Over In I-4 Accident

Car Accidents

A van towing an RV trailer on I-4 fishtailed resulting in an accident on January 17, 2017 near CR557 in Lake Alfred, Florida. The accident happened when the trailer veered off the shoulder of the highway causing the vehicle towing it to jackknife. The RV/mobile home rolled over and was a total loss. No injuries were reported in this accident. The RV had all of the family’s belongings in it.

Towing Laws In Florida

This accident is a reminder of how dangerous towing a trailer can be.  In order to safely tow a trailer, you have to understand the science behind it and avoid doing things that cause trailer sway and instability.  Section 316.530, Florida Statutes requires an appropriate tow bar along with the appropriate chains and other towing equipment.  The weight of the RV involved in the crash would require it to have functional trailer brakes.  As discussed below, trailer brakes have a significant impact on a driver’s ability to deal with trailer sway.

Improper Loading Likely To Blame For Trailer Sway

The real cause of this accident was likely to be improper loading and the precipitating event (the straw that broke the camel’s back) was a significant sideways force of going off the highway’s shoulder.  A properly loaded trailer will typically be controllable even in the event of a strong sidewind, drafts from semi-trucks, or uneven pavement.

The story behind this accident is that the trailer veered off the roadway and onto the shoulder before the towing vehicle jackknifed and a rollover occurred.  While the driver may have inappropriately attempted to suddenly steer the trailer back on the highway, it was likely hard to steer because of trailer sway.

What Is Trailer Sway?

Trailer sway occurs when a trailer’s center of mass is too close to the axles.  Most trailers in the United States have at least 10% of the trailer’s weight on the tongue to prevent trailer sway.  Some trailer axles can be moved to “re-balance” the trailer to give it more tongue weight while other trailers have to be loaded so that there is enough tongue weight to avoid sway.  The 10% “rule” is just a rule of thumb to help people stay away from the danger zone.

When you are traveling down the roadway with a trailer in tow and the trailer begins “wagging” behind your tow vehicle, then you have reached a point where trailer sway is starting to get dangerous.  Once you reach that point, if you continue to go faster, then the oscillations of the sway will get bigger until your vehicle is uncontrollable.  If you experience “wagging” or trailer sway while towing, you should slow down before it gets out of control.  Electric trailer brakes may help you do that while surge brakes require your vehicle to slow down before they engage.  With electric brakes, you can use your electric brake controller to engage the trailer’s brakes without using the tow vehicle’s brakes and, therefore, bring a swaying trailer back in line.  Under the same circumstances, using the tow vehicle’s to try to slow down can can a vehicle to jackknife.

Trailer sway is caused by “yaw” when the center of mass is directly over the trailer’s axles (or axles).  When this happens, it is relatively easy to for sideways forces (caused by wind, drafts, or uneven surfaces) to push the trailer sideways.  My best guess as to how this accident happened was that the trailer was improperly loaded and the trailer brakes may have been either inadequate or not working.

If You Have Questions About Your Accident, Call A Personal Injury Attorney

If you have been injured in an accident involving trailer sway, please contact a personal injury attorney with knowledge of accidents while towing trailers for a free review of your case.

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January 18, 2017