The Animal Transport Association (ATA) was able to meet with Clint Lancaster of the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers (NATM), who gave a presentation on "The Trailer Industry - Today and Tomorrow" as the Technical Director of the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers
This is the first time that ATA has been able to attract a person of such stature that represents the over 400 manufacturers of light-to-medium duty trailers in the US and about 20 in Canada.
Their logo on a trailer is an excellent indicator that their members have undergone an audit checklist every two years of their "compliance verification program," which used to be voluntary, but, as of 2011, is a mandatory portion of their program for members. Look for their logo on trailers that you are considering purchasing, and demand that manufacturers at least comply with these standards.
Current Issues and Efforts:
Lancaster delivered an excellent overview of the regulatory considerations that Transport Canada (TC) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Association are considering, based on efforts for C.A.F.E. carbon reduction and increasing gas mileage fuel economy for vehicles and towed trailer, as well as Canadian improvements in rear impact guards and tire/rim testing for trailers under 10,000 pounds (TC).
There are concerns that the new possible requirements for low friction tires and mandated aerodynamics will increase trailer costs, but Lancaster also mentioned that as customers demand these improvements, they will drive the manufacturers to make them available. (The horse and livestock trailer business is very customer driven.)
Lancaster admitted that there are some issues with trailers that have come to the forefront of their attempts to improve: from rear light visibility changes that will be implemented by 2014, to problems with electric breakaway brakes and batteries, to wheel fastening methods that generated both a research project and a 350 page study, as well as an ANSI standard for attaching wheels onto trailers.
Part of these issues can be solved by educating the manufacturers and owners that change out their own wheels during maintenance and/or manufacture.
The NATM is working to make these improvements and is asking for assistance with this research. They're even hoping to standardize the trailer terminology that is used around the world. NATM recently has identified ASTM standards for paint performance on trailers, and is working on standards for chemical resistance analysis for the very special requirements of livestock and horse excrement, urine, and sweat that commonly is found in horse trailers. This is a well-established contributor to the destruction of trailer flooring and can cause tragic scenarios for owners. He pointed out that since there are very low barriers for entry into the trailer manufacturing business at this time (another words, almost anyone with a welding shop can build and sell a horse trailer) NATM is emphasizing that legitimate manufacturers should join and allow audits of their production of trailers. Otherwise, there are many people who might have purchased brand new trailers for their horses (usually on the cheaper end of the spectrum) that do not meet the minimum standards. But there are minimal enforcement arms to solve that.
Our horses suffer as a result of low and no standardized production of trailers when accidents and tragedies occur. We, as the horse industry, need to demand that the manufacturers align themselves with these standards, and continue to improve our expectations for safety of our animals and the occupants of the towing vehicle.
NATM is looking at the trailer brake standards for light and medium duty trailers - including both electric and hydraulic brake systems. They are trying to develop a testing procedure to meet the performance criteria - especially one to be used in the field. Trailers for consumers (horse and small livestock trailers) are not regulated like the commercial haulers, so these are state-to-state regulations that can differ wildly: in some states horse trailers do not even have to have brakes!
As the driving public, it is our duty to make an effort to improve these laws so that fewer people and horses get injured. In Texas a trailer is only required to have one set of brakes to stop a 4,500-pound trailer and the second set of brakes at 15,000 pounds. To me, this sounds like we have a long way to go to improve things ourselves.
The best news is that, as of 2013, the Society of Automotive Engineers has announced that is has agreed (Dodge, Ford, etc. all the light truck manufacturers) to a standard test to establish towing capacity for their towing vehicles. This is wonderful news because until now, they were able to basically say what they wanted to from a marketing and sales perspective. This change will allow truck buyers to compare apples to apples. They will test for stability as well as propulsion.
Lastly, looking forward to 2018, as smart vehicles become more widely distributed, the NATM will be looking for ways to innovate smart trailer technologies from tire pressure monitoring systems and electronic stability and sway controls to a trailer anti-lock brake system, similar to that in cars, and backup cameras.
NATM features a book by Lancaster entitled "The Trailer Handbook" which is available for purchase.