The scene you never want to see roadside is a crash involving a loaded horse trailer. Sadly, it happens too often. If you’re a horse owner, you have heard the horror stories. And, it’s likely you personally know horses that have been injured while in transport.
As a community of horse enthusiasts, is there anything we can do to make the roads safer for our precious cargo? As a start, we can start raising awareness amongst our non-horsey friends about how to share the road safely with horse trailers.
While there are few aggregate stats on the causes of horse trailer accidents, anecdotal reports often cite unsafe driving by other cars on the road. Maybe some of that can be avoided if more people recognize a horse trailer (and other tow vehicles) as a driving condition worthy of extra precaution.
When the clouds open up and start dumping rain, most drivers slow down and tune in to driving safely. A horse trailer on the road should prompt the same reaction.
Tips for driving around horse trailers
Know the limitations of trailers.
The average weight of a horse is 1,100 pounds. Add in the weight of the trailer itself, the truck pulling that trailer and any equipment loaded on that trailer, and you have a heavy, slow-moving vehicle.
Even the smallest of horse trailers has far less maneuverability than a car. Drivers of these rigs cannot zip around unexpected obstacles or change course on a dime. Slamming on the brakes is never an option.
The driver’s visibility is also limited. You’ve seen the signs on the back of big rigs: if you can’t see the sideview mirrors, those drivers can’t see you. The same rule applies to horse trailer rigs.
Give trailers more space than you think they need.
Horse haulers make slow and steady adjustments to changing traffic conditions. Give them space — a lot of space. When traffic is slowing down, it might be tempting to dive in to an open spot in front of a trailer, but just don’t.
Plan ahead when merging and changing lanes.
Unsafe lane changes are a leading cause of car accidents in general. At-fault drivers are often unaware of (or unconcerned with) other vehicles on the road.
You can improve the safety of your driving in general by avoiding sudden lane changes. And when a horse trailer is in the mix, be extra cautious. It only takes seconds to consider if your lane change will force a horse rig to make a sudden adjustment.
Drive at a steady speed.
Horse haulers like to maintain a steady pace on the road. The reasons are fairly obvious — it’s safer and easier on the horses, and less taxing on gas mileage, brakes, transmission, etc.
While the driver of a horse rig is trying to keep the pace steady, he or she is also managing the spacing between the rig and other cars on the road. That balancing act gets vastly easier when neighboring vehicles are also driving at fairly constant speeds.
Recognize that you might get the worst of it.
You can cut off a car and get away with it sometimes. Maybe the other driver swerves or brakes to avoid impact. But that’s far less likely with a horse trailer. And if there is impact, the weight of that rig can cause serious damage to you and your vehicle.
Driving safely around horse trailers is ultimately a self-preservation strategy. Clip a trailer and you probably lose control of your vehicle. Swerve around a trailer expecting it to move, and you’re likely to make solid contact. Dive in front of a trailer and you might get crushed from behind.
Of course, there are other safe driving tips we could add to this list. Stay off the phone, avoid distractions, focus on the road. All of these boil down to paying attention and being courteous to your fellow drivers. Do that and you’re contributing to safer roads for people and our animals.