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Old 05-18-2005, 08:02 AM   #1
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Trailer Stability

I am very sad to read today that three people were killed in an trailer accident on I-94 in Michigan.

The University of Mankato students were in a full sized van towing a trailer. I do not know if the trailer had a load equalizing hitch or sway dampening devices.

The trailer evidently started to sway, crossed the median, and was struck by two semis coming the opposite direction. The accident happened in mid afternoon.

The students were seniors in automotive engineering. They were members of SAE, the Society of Automotive Engineers. Their professor was in the van. They had spent the last year designing a Formula race car to compete with over 100 other college teams. They are working at the leading edge of automotive design and engineering.

The rules for the competition (over 100 pages) detailed all the harnesses, rollbars and other safety features required for the race car.

But not for the vehicle and trailer used to get to the race.

Who was responsible for setting up the towing gear?

Last week, the SAE held a meeting in Phoenix to discuss trailer stability. They hold this meeting every two years. Yet we are still using obsolete, inadequate, poorly designed towing gear.

We need a better design.

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Old 05-18-2005, 08:50 AM   #2
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I am not sure what happened but here in the Detroit area they have shown images of the van and the trailer.
It is obvious to me that they were towing an enclosed cargo trailer. Most of those are not towed with any form of anti-sway or weight distribution systems installed.
It is sad when something like this happens to make us all realize that we have to be vigilant about using the proper equipment in the proper manner. It took seconds for this to happen and I am sure they were not planning on something like this happening to them.
God bless them and keep them.

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Old 05-18-2005, 01:32 PM   #3
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It looks like it may have been a Freightliner/Sprinter van, certainly should have been able to handle the weight.

I'm sure they weren't planning on something like this either. That's not an excuse, in my mind. Three people are dead. And if anyone should understand how to properly tow a trailer, don't you think a group of senior automotive engineering students should? Some had graduated on Saturday, so they weren't even 'students' anymore. They were degreed automotive engineers. And what about the professor?

How could they drive all the way from Mankato, Minnesota to Michigan, a distance of 500 miles, without noticing that something was wrong?

I'm pretty mad about this. Partly because it's my State University, less than 70 miles from my house. Partly because the professionals should have made sure this couldn't happen. And mostly because both the University and SAE should be doing more to improve trailer safety.

God bless and keep them, and their families.
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Old 05-18-2005, 02:22 PM   #4
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I'd be interested if that van was an extended Ford or Dodge product. Those particular vans have some stability issues under heavy loads due to the fact that that frame extends well beyond the rear wheels. GM is the only builder of vans that extends the wheelbase on its extended vans. I know the College I worked at a few years ago, started limiting the passenger count on our extended Dodge vans due to these problems. Also curious whether the utility trailer was single or tandem axled.

I was following a auto pulling a single axled U-Haul that suddenly went into a sway on a local interstate. It only took about 3 cycles of yaw and the entire car and trailer slid sideways off the road. Thankfully no overturn but the power of how that trailer pulled that Chevy Caprice sideways was quite dramatic. I saw the first yaw and at that point hit my brakes to back off, since I knew what was coming for that driver.

It is sad that utility and rental trailers don't have any sway components.

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Old 05-18-2005, 04:46 PM   #5
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Any time young people are killed is a tragedy. We don't know what happened, but are busy pointing fingers. As for engineers knowing how to do something..... well...... I watched my father in law, and his two brothers, civil engineers all, lay out a patio, pour the concrete and so on. The grade was a 1/4" drop per foot, ten foot wide area. Let me tell you, this group of three engineers had water running uphill when they were done! That was the only answer any of us could get from them if we asked about the pools of standing water...... they would scratch their heads and say, The figures were right, the slope was right, we checked everything twice! It must be running uphill!
My point here is just because you have the knowledge does not mean it translates to practical application.
And there are many of the general public that have not a clue on how to properly load a trailer for weight distribution and to not overburden the cargo carrying capacity! I get very angry at U-Haul for renting to just anyone with the funds, and not running them through a course, even if brief, on how to load and tow a trailer! I have seen many, many, overloaded cargo trailers.... watch them sway and dance down the road! And pray you don't hit them, or they hit you!
I-94 can be a very wicked road in huge areas of Michigan.... those ruts caused by semi trucks are absolutely evil.... the semi's have a slightly wider track than passenger vehicles.... the regular cars, vans, pickups, or trailers do NOT fit in those grooves! Now take a poorly loaded trailer, with an inexperienced (for towing purposes) driver, and mix it up on I-94 in Michigan! Truely a recipe for disaster!
Yes, hitches should be better. Yes, more time should be spent in learning how to tow, how to load, etc. Personally, I find it unbelievable that any idiot with a drivers license can hop in a motor home, or hitch up to a travel trailer, and hit the road with NO restrictions!
Yes, I am sorry for the families, but stop and think before you lay ALL the blame on hitches!

Elizabeth in Iowa
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The carpeting is gone! The carpeting is gone! Long live the cork floor!
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