Trailers are synonymous with family recreation and travel, however, there are serious dangers involved when towing a trailer. Unfortunately, the public has not been adequately informed of the defects and dangers with many trailers, and the public does not know how best to react in dangerous trailer sway situations. Trailer sway is a phenomenon that is not always adequately explained to consumers, and trailer sway induced accidents cause serious injuries and deaths each year as a result. The risks associated with trailers that are prone to sway due to their very design and manufacture must be taken seriously by manufacturers, who should provide adequate instructions and warnings to the public as to the dangers and rectifying the defects in trailers themselves.
What is Trailer Sway?
Trailer sway occurs when a vehicle towing a trailer moves from side to side, or sways, as it is being pulled. This can happen because of changing air currents caused by wind gusts or passing vehicles. The propensity of a trailer to sway can be affected by numerous factors. For example, there are various types of hitches that can be used for towing. The type of hitch that is used for towing can make a huge difference when it comes to trailer sway. Hitch balls are most suited for towing light-weight loads or for use by cars, but if the option for an axle-type system, or fifth-wheel hitch, is available, that type of system is actually safer, and decreases the chance of trailer sway. The fifth wheel hitches are mounted inside the bed of the truck and put the weight more over the towing vehicle as opposed to behind it, thus creating more stability. However, if a traditional hitch ball system must be used, there are certain hitching systems designed to address the phenomenon of trailer sway. One such type system is a hitch manufactured by Hensley called the Hensley Arrow. Although more costly than a typical hitch-ball system, this type of hitch prevents trailer sway by placing the “center of rotation towards the middle of the vehicle as opposed to right at the hitch ball.” This allows a vehicle to be better able to withstand movements or sway of the trailer. These hitches oscillate to allow for movement, but only allow controlled movement, and thus, minimize sharp sways and fish-tailing of the trailer.
Once a trailer begins to sway, if appropriate action is not taken, or if the sway is too severe to be corrected, the vehicle will likely lose control and roll over or crash. This can be devastating to the occupants, and even more so since trailers are often carrying families or a larger number of occupants than regular vehicles.
What To Do When A Trailer Sways?
Many people are completely unaware of the dangers associated with towing trailers. Many do not realize that they do not have the safest hitch-type, or do not appreciate the risk associated with using a hitch-ball type of system. Manufacturers and retailers have done little to inform the public of the dangers of trailer sway or instruct the public on how to deal with a trailer sway occurrence.
While an instinctual reaction when feeling your vehicle start to sway out of control would be to brake, that could be the worst thing to do.Experts state that when confronted with trailer sway the best alternatives to bring the vehicle-trailer combination under control include slightly accelerating, letting your foot off the gas gently, or if you have separate trailer brakes, to brake those. Pressing the vehicle’s brakes, however, could make the sway worse. The trailer would get closer to the vehicle, and exacerbate the sway. Rather, what needs to be done is to create some space between the vehicle and the trailer to let it straighten itself out. Some experts also suggest that while towing drivers avoid making sharp turns and multiple lane changes because such maneuvers could increase the likelihood of trailer sway. However, the fact remains that consumers are not well-informed or warned by trailer manufacturers and retailers on what to do when trailer sway occurs.
Alternatives and Warnings
The best thing to do to prevent trailer sway would be to utilize a fifth-wheel or a hitch-ball system like the Hensley Arrow, that puts the center of gravity towards the axle of the towing vehicle. This increases stability.
Purchasers or renters of trailers should also be warned by both the manufacturer and the retailer of the actual dangers of trailer sway. Although this may dissuade some people from towing trailers, it could also save their lives or prevent injuries in the event of a rollover or crash caused by trailer sway.
There has been ongoing litigation regarding trailer sway and the design of the trailers, hitching systems and other towing devices. This litigation has exposed not only the design issues that contribute to trailer sway, but the lack of warnings given by manufacturers and retailers within the trailer industry about trailer sway and the lack of instruction on what to do if trailer sway occurs. Often these cases involve allegations that a vehicle towing a trailer rolled over after the trailer being towed began swaying uncontrollably. Consumers who are not warned or adequately instructed on the dangers of trailer sway, the options for eliminating it, and how to deal with it, could have a lawsuit against the manufacturers and retailers. Trailer sway must be taken seriously and the public must be made aware of what they are facing when towing a trailer.
 Jere Downs, ’09 System Counter Towing “Tail Wag” in Explorer Tackles Trailer Sway, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY (Mar. 22, 2008).
 Towing Tutorial, Florida Horse, News, http://www.floridahorse.com/trailertowing.htm (Accessed July 24, 2008).
 The Ultimate Towing Experience: Hensley Arrow, http://www.hensleymfg.com/arrowdetails.htm (Accessed July 30, 2008).
 See generally e.g., Myron Levin & Alan C. Miller, Danger in Tow: Driving with Rented Risks; U-Haul International is the nation’s largest provider of rental trailers, Los Angeles Times (June 24, 2007) (noting one driving who began tapping her brakes when her U-haul trailer began to sway, and she was unable to get it back under control).
 The Ultimate Towing Experience, supra n. 5.
 Consulting Expert Escapes Opposition’s Deposition Bid, Federal Discovery News (Jan. 1, 2007).