Safe Travels

— Written By Zack Taylor and last updated by
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As we get into the heart of summer vacation, more folks are on the road. But people aren’t the only thing travelling down our highways and backroads. Many of us will be loading livestock into trailers and hitting the road. Maybe you are loading horses to take on a trail ride. Or perhaps you are loading cattle, goats, or sheep into the trailer to head to the market, or one of many livestock shows across the area like the one at the Lee Regional Fair. Whatever the reason, any time is a good time to take a look at you trailer and think about some ways to improve safety for yourself, your animals, and fellow motorist.

First, make sure the truck you are hauling is capable of handling the weight of the trailer, and don’t forget the added weight of the animals. You can check this by checking your vehicles Gross Combined Vehicle Weight (GCVW). That rating can be found typically in either the owner’s manual or on the serial number tag on the inside edge of the driver’s door. Don’t forget to account for the weight of other passengers, fuel, and any other cargo you may have packed. Your trailer should have information either printed on the tongue or in the owner’s manual about tongue weight. Be sure this matches with your trailer hitch capability.

Safe practices should be made when loading a trailer as well. For your safety and that pf your animals, be sure to follow low stress handling techniques when loading a trailer. Check for and remove or avoid pinch points that put you between animals and a hard surface. An animal should enter the trailer on their own. This keeps them calm and prevents slips and falls. Check your trailer and be sure the animal will have safe, non-slip footing. Look for and remove any protrusions where animals could be injured inside the trailer. Be sure you can close the gates quickly once and animal is loaded. Use dividers when loading animals to sort animals by weight and help distribute weight evenly on the trailer. The majority of weight should be over the axles. This makes for a safer trailer and a more comfortable ride for both the drivers and animals. Don’t trailer gates and doors while traveling. If you are involved in an accident, emergency workers may need to open them save your animals life.

Before heading out on each trip, use a check list to make sure you are ready for to trip. Your checklist should include the following:

  • Be sure all lights are in working order, even if you plan to be home before nightfall, plans can change or unexpected weather may occur. Make sure all wires are safely tucked away and there are no signs of damage.
  • Safety chains. Be sure chains are securely fastened at both ends. Check for broken links. While you’re there, check the breakaway system on your brakes to be sure it is working properly.
  • Be sure all tires are safe and properly inflated. Check tires for wear, damage, and dry rot. Consider replacing tires every 5 years regardless of use. Don’t forget to check the spare as well. Consider packing some WD-40 to help with stubborn lug nuts. Wheel bearings should be repacked on a regular basis and replaced if needed.
  • Test you brake controller and make adjustments depending on the weight of your trailer.

Each trailer is different, so develop a safety check list to fit your safety needs. Check out inspection guidelines in a resource such as the commercial driver license manual, found online, for ideas or things you may have left out. As always, if you have questions give me a call at 919-775-5624. I would be happy to come out and help identify potential safety concerns. Safe travels!

Zack Taylor is the Agriculture Agent (Field Crops and Livestock) for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.