The most familiar form of towing is the transport of disabled or otherwise indisposed vehicles by a tow truck or “wrecker.” Other familiar forms are the tractor-trailer combination, and cargo or leisure vehicles coupled via ball or pintle and gudgeon trailer-hitches to smaller trucks and cars. In the opposite extreme are extremely heavy duty tank recovery vehicles, and enormous ballast tractors involved in heavy hauling towing loads stretching into the millions of pounds.
Necessarily, government and industry standards have been developed for carriers, lighting, and coupling to ensure safety and interoperability of towing equipment.
Historically, barges were hauled along rivers or canals using tow ropes drawn by men or draught animals walking along towpaths on the banks. Later came chain boats. Today, tug boats are used to maneuver larger vessels and barges. Over thousands of years the maritime industry has refined towing to a science.
There are many safety considerations to properly tow a caravan or trailer starting with vehicle towing capacity and ranging through equalizer hitches to properly and legally connecting the safety chains.
According to the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Association, more than 65,000 crashes involving passenger vehicles towing trailers occurred in 2004 in the US, jumping nearly 20 percent from the previous year.
In 2006, Master Lock did their annual study on towing safety to see how many Americans tow their cargo correctly. The study, Towing Troubles included responses from trailer owners across the country and found that while the majority of trailer owners believe they know what they’re doing when it comes to towing, most were lacking the proper education. Master Lock reported that 70 percent of trailer owners did not fully know the correct way to tow their cargo.
An important factor in towing safety is tongue weight, the weight with which the trailer presses down on the tow vehicle’s hitch. Insufficient tongue weight can cause the trailer to sway back and forth when towed. Too much tongue weight can cause problems with the tow vehicle.