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Driving tips

Seven tips for a safe trip to the cottage or campsite

Published June 28, 2013
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With Canada Day and summer vacations upon us, many of us will be hitting the road for cottage country and bringing lots of “goodies” along for the ride. Here are some tips on how to safely load your vehicle or trailer before heading north.

  • No passengers are allowed in a towed camper, house or boat trailer. This doesn’t apply to a self-contained motorhome or RV that you drive from inside.
  • Don’t overload the trailer. In one incident, young cottage-goers filled up a rowboat on a trailer with heavy beer cases, causing the overloaded trailer to blow a tire en route. Tip: get beer when you near your destination, or unload first and then make a beer run.
  • Use a red flag. Long loads, such as a canoe, overhanging the rear of the vehicle by 1.5 metres or more require a red flag or marker at the back end. At nighttime or in darkness, a red light is required instead.
  • Keep it secure. Trailers must have two separate means of attachment so that, if one fails, the trailer won’t become detached from the vehicle. So secure your trailer chains every time; using the hitch alone is illegal. (This doesn’t apply to fifth-wheel attachments).
  • Tie it down. When packing an SUV or minivan, keep in mind that any cargo not tied down in back may become a projectile in a crash and endanger occupants. Anything loaded in or on a vehicle or trailer must be firmly bound, covered if necessary, or otherwise secured. If using bungee cords, which can stretch or break, use rope as a secondary means of securing the load. It’s better to be safe than sorry. I once saw an upright mattress in a high-sided, open-top box trailer suctioned out by the wind on a highway. One extra rope could’ve prevented that. Under the Highway Traffic Act, you can be charged if anything falls off or comes loose. And items don’t have to actually fall off to warrant a charge. If others crash as a result, criminal negligence charges may also apply.
  • Fill jerry cans at or near your destination, not at the onset of your trip, even if gas is a few cents cheaper in the city. Place the can on the ground when filling, as static discharge can ignite fumes if it’s filled on the back of a pickup, for example. Be aware that in a hot car parked in the sun, liquid camp fuel tins may burst and propane cylinders may vent. Prolonged exposure to fumes from any of these fuel sources may cause dizziness or loss of consciousness. Don’t smoke if carrying any fuel container in a vehicle. It’s preferable to transport portable fuel containers outside the vehicle if possible, but fuel in a trailer also presents a hazard if you’re rear-ended.
  • Pack a fire extinguisher. Transporting fuel is inherently dangerous, so pack a fire extinguisher.

Email your non-mechanical questions to Eric Lai at wheels@thestar.ca. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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