INDIANAPOLIS - A transportation expert at Purdue University is warning drivers about what he calls a growing danger on Indiana highways.
"Most consumers today are buying 20-foot trailers, and just about everybody's got a hitch," said Dr. Fred Whitford, who has studied transportation for 15 years and has published several studies on the topic. "These are people who have generally not had training."
Whitford points to national statistics that show more than 300 people die each year and nearly 10,000 are injured in crashes involving trailers.
The website DangerousTrailers.org tracks crashes involving trailers.
Whitford said every day in Indiana he sees truck drivers incorrectly hauling boats, landscaping supplies and other equipment.
"It's not a potential, it's real," said Whitford. "Every day, I get reports of these trailers coming off and when they do, if you can imagine, a flying missile."
Whitford demonstrated the common mistakes drivers make, including hauling loads that are too heavy for the trailer, not using chains in a "cradle" position, not using a pin and not properly securing their loads with straps and ties.
"It's not that people are stupid or they want to do anything wrong, it's that they just don't know," Whitford said.
This year, the Call 6 Investigators have exposed highway dangers such as inadequate underride guards on semi-trucks and what some call a lack of state inspectors who look for overweight trucks and unsecured loads.
Whitford said while police and drivers often focus on larger trucks, small trucks and SUVs are often overlooked.
"In Indiana there is no annual inspection required from a government facility like in some states," Whitford said.
Indiana State Police F/Sgt. Ty Utterback told Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney trailers on commercial vehicles are required to document an annual inspection performed by the company or a mechanic.
Even if it's not a commercial vehicle, police can still stop and enforce certain laws, such as leaky load.
Whitford said drivers with trailers should read their manuals and stickers to ensure they're carrying a safe amount of weight.
"This ball says it can carry 6,000 pounds," Whitford said. "A lot of people have 13,000-pound balls on here, that is a huge mistake and that's why these things break."
Whitford said drivers without trailers can keep their eyes peeled and be ready to move.
"If you see things that are not tied down, or they wobble, or you can see furniture moving or mattresses moving, then you have to back off or get around," Whitford said.