The Early Warning System - A Step Towards Insuring Horse Trailer Safety

Neva Kittrell Scheve, EquiSpirit

As a horse owner, you want and deserve safe equipment for carrying your horse(s) from one place to another. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued the Early Warning Reporting (EWR) regulation that went into effect in 2003. The EWR, which affects ALL vehicles that travel American roadways, is a step towards insuring horse trailer safety.

Prior to the enactment of the Early Warning Reporting regulation, safety requirements for horse trailers failed to focus on standards for materials used, design, and construction. The Department of Transportation governed features such as the size of trailers, maximum weight, where the lights should go, axles, and brakes. Aside from those features, manufacturers could pretty much use whatever materials they wanted to build a horse trailer. They could design the trailer however they wished, with little or no concern for horse or owner safety!

Purpose of the Early Warning Reporting Regulation

The EWR requires all U.S. vehicle manufacturers to collect incoming data that might be indicative of safety defects in one or more of their products. Data includes reports of property damage, injuries, and deaths that have occurred while these products were in use.

The data that is collected by the vehicle manufacturers is to be reported quarterly to the NHTSA. The Office of Defects Investigation reviews the data received to determine whether there are recurring problems and patterns that might indicate defects in a particular product. (Note: Not all property damage, injuries, and deaths that result from accidents involving horse trailers or other vehicles are caused by defects in those horse trailers or other vehicles.)

Early detection of product defects will be brought to the attention of manufacturers and/or suppliers. The manufacturers and/or suppliers will then alert consumers of such defects and either fix the problem, recall the product, or both. Failure of the manufacturers to comply with the EWR may result in severe penalties.

What This Means to Horse Owners

Even though the passing of the EWR may mean more work for horse trailer manufacturers, it means more peace of mind for horse owners who trailer their horses. Since manufacturers now have more incentive to follow safety guidelines when designing their products, there is more assurance that trailering horses will be safer. After all, the manufacturers now face penalties for non-compliance with the EWR; and, should any defects be discovered in their horse trailers, they are responsible for correcting the defects and/or recalling the trailers in question.

It should be noted that horse trailer manufacturers who build less than 500 units per year only have to report incidents that result in death or serious injury. (And, there are still a significant number of manufacturers who make less than 500 horse trailers per year.) This is a definite weakness of the Early Warning Reporting regulation, since those manufacturers do not have to report any other problems that may be caused by design flaws. Such defects could potentially affect large numbers of people. Although these faults may not be life-threatening, they could contribute to unexpected problems when hauling horses from place-to-place.

In spite of its imperfections, the passing of the EWR has definitely led the horse trailer industry to create safer trailers for traveling with horses.

Reprinted with permission from EquiSpirit.

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