Safety Tips for Driving with a Trailer

How to drive safely with a trailer

Before setting out on a drive when towing make sure to practice. This will not only help make you comfortable with driving while towing but ensure the safety of others who may be riding with you and yourself. Number one rule when towing never allow anyone to ride in or on the trailer, RV, boat, etc while towing.  A good idea you may want to check your route for any restrictions for bridges and tunnels you may pass over/thru for an alternative route around them. AAA is usually a good resource for this information; as well as getting any construction you may encounter enroute to your destination. Following are general safety tips to make for a safe trip while driving and towing.

General Handling

  • Use the driving gear that the manufacturer recommends for towing.
  • Drive at moderate speeds. This will place less strain on your tow vehicle and trailer.
  • Trailer instability (sway) is more likely to occur as speed increases.  (Be sure to check with state laws for posted speed limit when towing)
  • Avoid sudden stops and starts that can cause skidding, sliding, or jackknifing.
  • Avoid sudden steering maneuvers that might create sway or undue side force on the trailer.
  • You will need to slow down when traveling over bumpy roads, railroad crossings, and ditches. However, it is recommended to avoid ditches at all cost.  
  • Make wider turns at curves and corners. Because your trailer’s wheels are closer to the inside of a turn than the wheels of your tow vehicle, they are more likely to hit or ride up over curbs.
  • To control swaying caused by air pressure changes and wind buffeting when larger vehicles (i.e. semi truck) pass from either direction of your vehicle, release the accelerator pedal to slow down and keep a firm grip on the steering wheel.


  • Allow more distance for stopping; you are carrying more weight and will take longer to slow down.
  • If you have an electric trailer brake controller and excessive sway occurs, activate the trailer brake controller by hand. Do not attempt to control trailer sway by applying the tow vehicle brakes; this will generally make the sway worse.
  • Always be alert for the need to slow down. To reduce speed, shift to a lower gear and press the brakes lightly.

Acceleration and Passing

  • When passing a slower vehicle or changing lanes, signal well in advance and make sure you allow extra distance to clear the vehicle before you pull back into the lane.
  • Pass on level terrain with plenty of clearance. Avoid passing on steep upgrades or downgrades.  Pass only in posted areas.
  • If necessary, downshift for improved acceleration or speed maintenance.
  • When passing on narrow roads, be careful not to go onto a soft shoulder. This could cause your trailer to jackknife or for you to lose control of your vehicle.

Downgrades and Upgrades

  • Downshift to assist with braking on downgrades and to add power for climbing hills.
  • On long downgrades, apply brakes in intervals to keep speed in check. Never leave brakes on for extended periods of time or they may overheat.
  • In some vehicles they have specifically calibrated transmission tow-modes. If this is the case be sure to use the tow-mode recommended by the manufacturer.

Backing Up

  • Put your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. To turn left, move your hand left. To turn right, move your hand right. Back up slowly. Because mirrors cannot provide all of the visibility due to blind spots it is a good idea to have a ground guide to direct you. Be sure to have this person stand to the side of the vehicle when directing you for backing for their own safety.
  • Use slight movements of the steering wheel to adjust direction. Do not over exaggerate movements as this will cause a larger movement of the trailer. If you have difficulty, pull forward and realign the tow vehicle and trailer and start again.


  • Try to avoid parking on grades. If possible, have someone outside to guide you as you park. Once stopped, but before shifting into park, have someone place blocks on the downhill side of the trailer wheels. Apply the parking brake, shift into park, and then remove your foot from the brake pedal. Following these parking steps is important to make sure your vehicle does not become locked into park because of extra load on the transmission. For manual transmissions, apply the parking brake and then turn the vehicle off in either first or reverse gear.
  • When uncoupling a trailer, place blocks at the front and rear of the trailer tires to ensure that the trailer does not roll away when the coupling is released.
  • An unbalanced load may cause the tongue to suddenly rotate upward; therefore, before un-coupling, place jack stands under the rear of the trailer to prevent any injury.


  • Pay caution when the roads are wet from rain or snow.  Reduce speed for safety.
  • If there is any doubt of black ice on the road or ice at all on the road – avoid driving for your own safety.