Possible Fatal Flaw in Trailer Hitches On Semi Trucks

A flaw in the design of a trailer hitch could affect as many as 6,000 trucks that are sharing the road with unsuspecting motorists across the United States. The hitches have a tendency to disconnect, which releases the trailer and sends it barreling out of control down the highway. In January of 2014, on a snow-covered winding Ohio hill that earned the dubious nickname of the Devil’s Backbone, an 18-wheeler lost its trailer during the pre-dawn commuting period. While going 40 mph, the trailer rammed one pickup truck and bounced into another one. The two truck drivers were killed. A truck accident lawyer in Texas is prepared to represent you if you were injured or lost a loved one in such an accident. Initially, the driver of the 18-wheeler was cited for not checking the hitch that held the trailer. However, more than 1.5 years after the fatal accident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has said that the trailer hitch may have been defective. This assertion is based on an unusually high incidence of trailer separations for the Ultra LT type of hitch that was installed on the truck. Fontaine Fifth Wheel, based in Trussville, Alabama, manufactures the hitch. Fontaine is cooperating with the investigation into the part. A tractor trailer accident attorney might recall that NHTSA also failed to discover the problems with ignition switches used by General Motors and the problematic Takata air bags. The 17-month delay between the accident on the Devil’s Backbone and NHTSA’s accusation that the hitches are faulty could expose the agency to more criticism. Sean Kane, the president of Safety Research and Strategies, said that the seeming inability to connect the dots and protect the public is a chronic problem that has dogged the NHTSA for a long time. Every Houston 18 wheeler accident attorney is watching this case carefully because there are so many more trucks using the Ultra LT hitch. The NHTSA must act promptly. Fontaine has already offered to replace the entire batch of 6,000 hitches due to non-safety reasons that it would not specify. During 2011, truck manufacturers Volvo, Mack, Kenworth and Freightliner recalled some 2,400 tractors to swap out a bar that locks down a pin between the trailers and the hitch. Fontaine also made a change in the design that was supposed to prevent issues with the hitch in the future. One year later, Fontaine found another problem with the hitch, but the NHTSA declined to investigate the problem. Fontaine claimed that the Devil’s Backbone accident was the result of an incorrect hookup by the drivers. After Fontaine announced its desire to replace all the hitches, the NHTSA decided to launch an investigation. Gordon Trowbridge, an NHTSA spokesman, said that the investigation would determine if the crash, Fontaine’s announcement and the decision to replace the hitches were based on the same safety issue. Fontaine must surrender all company communication and other data regarding the hitches to the NHSTA by July 27. The Ohio State Highway Patrol concluded that the hitch failed because it was never properly closed due to frozen grease on the pin and receiver. The temperature that day was 4 degrees below zero. The driver said that he was unable to fasten it on his first three attempts, but he was able to connect the trailer the fourth time. He said that he drove a short distance and checked it again to make sure it was hooked correctly. An accident reconstruction expert said that a few days after the accident, the hitch was working flawlessly. He believes that a proper inspection of the hitch would have revealed the problem.