Deadly Com·pla·cen·cy

detached trailer

Any DOT Roadside Inspector with some experience will tell you one of the most shocking discoveries they make time and time again, are how many tractor-trailers they inspect with the trailer not secure to the tractor. In some cases the “jaw” is not secure to the trailer’s kingpin. In other cases, critical components like the kingpin are totally missing, but the trailer “sits” on the tractor.

Recent news tell of the deadly consequences of a trailer not secured to the power unit.

  • March 17, 2015 — Four people were killed and two injured after a trailer detached from the tractor on a foggy U.S. 27 in Palm Beach County, in Florida
  • April 7, 2015 — a semi-trailer detached on on South Park Avenue Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County, PA, killing an oncoming truck driver.
  • May 7, 2015 — a woman was killed when a trailer detached from the tractor on the I-5, south of the Kern and Kings counties line, near Bakersfield, CA.

Many trailer detachments occur on smaller roads and go unreported. Trailer detachments unfortunately are fairly common, but almost always preventable.

After a trailer detachment, the truck driver:

  • may be charged with homicide by vehicle or vehicular manslaughter, or Recklessly Endangering Other Persons
  • may have his CDL license suspended
  • may be put on probation or incarcerated
  • face civil court cases/lawsuits

An investigation by Lower Providence Township Police and the Montgomery County Detective Bureau revealed that on the morning of the fatal crash, the defendant (driver) failed to properly secure the trailer component of his tractor-trailer before setting out from a business in Reading, Berks County. (Police Report)

The truck driver is responsible for any trailer detachment. A dropped trailer is usually grounds for termination of employment. If the driver is not sure about the equipment condition, the driver has an obligation to inform management of his inspection and observations, and have the equipment professionally inspected, and if necessary, repaired. This would be evidenced by a mechanic’s signature on the Driver’s Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR), per FMCSA regulations.  All companies and carriers and drivers regulated by U.S. DOT are bound by FMCSA regulations. 

Criminal charges can be brought against drivers pulling a trailer that breaks free or becomes detached.

Training Competence

Never assume a new driver knows how to drop and hook. This aspect of driving is not on the CDL test and therefore is not always practiced. It is possible to have a CDL driver who has never dropped or hooked a trailer in his life.

tractor with no fifth wheel hitch

This “tractor” in a CDL school has no fifth wheel.

Countermeasures

Drivers must visually inspect the jaws/kingpin each time before they set out.

Drivers must visually inspect the jaws/kingpin each time they leave the truck and trailer unattended.

Drivers must preform trailer hook-up procedures according to accepted safety practices or manufacturer’s guidelines including: setting proper lineups and heights, doing several pull tests, visual inspections, brake tests, checking to ensure the 5th wheel is free of ice, snow, excessive grease or any other debris, etc.

Management has a duty to be knowledgeable on safety policies and FMCSA regulations.

Management has a duty to enforce safety policies and FMCSA regulations.

Cold weather can affect hook-ups. The locking mechanism may need extra time to work in very cold conditions.

Proper uncoupling procedures are important as well, and uncoupling should be done in mind with making the hook-up as safe and as easy as possible.

Thank you for reading this.

John Taratuta is an independent Risk Engineer and driver trainer. (989) 474-9599