Search Archives




Powered by Squarespace
« 311. The Verrazano Bridge of Advertising. | Main | 309. Returning to the Firehouse. »

310. Design in Tow.

Nevada treated me to a surprisingly beautiful day of driving. Drive 6,200 miles like I did this month and you'll see lots of bad driving, accidents, almost-accidents, texting-while-driving, road-rage, and your fair share of general recklessness. (The good news is that you'll also see lots of courtesy and consideration all across the country—so there's still hope for humanity yet.) However, let there be no doubt that the road is a dangerous place full of people with varying degrees of driving skills, attitudes and experience. 

For the most part the rules of the road try to minimize the risk and add organization and order to this chaos. A well-marked exit reduces the risk of having someone cut in front of you (and three lanes) to make it in time. A sign on the back of a big rig lets you know he has a huge blind spot and allows you to adjust your following distance. And signs of all sorts portend of changing road conditions—like the Damaged Road sign I came across in Wyoming. Had I not slowed down I'm sure I would have bounced right off the highway. Or have been swallowed whole by the road. It was really damaged. VW Beetle sized pot holes. No joke. Design obviously plays a big part in making such warnings easy to read, noticeable and actionable. And for the most part in the US, it all works pretty well.

There was one thing that I observed during my travels this summer that could use a little design thinking to improve the situation. No less than five times I watched as one car swerved into the path of another car that was pulling a trailer of some sort only to correct themselves just in the nick of time. All five drivers assumed the other vehicle's end was the vehicle's end not guessing the car's length was increased two to three-fold by a trailer. Yes, this problem could easily be avoided by reminding drivers to wait longer before making a passing or switching lane maneuver. But if I'm pulling a trailer behind my truck I'd like to increase my odds of not having someone swerve into the path of what I'm towing. Call me crazy, but people seem to have an issue with this.

Here's the problem in more detail.

First you notice you have to merge right to make an exit but there is a vehicle in the way. The exit is coming up but you have to slow to let the car on the right pass. This is what you see in your right window as the car passes. Remember that you'll need to get over rather quickly to make your exit:

This is what you'd hit if you try to merge too closely to the car's back-end, which can be necessary in some situations such as tight traffic or in a scenario when someone isn't giving you enough space to make a more careful maneuver.

Hey, that car is pulling a trailer! It's not always obvious. Sometimes the trailers are not as tall as the car that is pulling it, so your rear-view will not disclose the extra vehicle length. If the trailer rides low or is really short in height, this makes it even easier to miss. And this obviously works when the towing vehicle passes you too. For instance, if you are trying to merge into the left lane to pass a vehicle and follow a car 'secretly' in tow, the same situation arises. If you pull into the lane too early you'll merge directly into the trailer. Like I said, I've seen this happen many times and on five separate occasions on just this last trip alone.

The problem in graphic form. The blue car can't see the dark car's trailer and merges right into it while pulling in behind the car from either side. So here's the proposal. If an ordinary passenger car or truck is pulling a trailer, they have a magnetized (or vinyl cling) warning emblem placed on their vehicle that informs the cars around them that they are in fact, in tow. It's a simple low-cost solution that would be extremely easy to implement. Even if U-haul was the only company to implement it, three of the close calls I observed may have been prevented. I assume that if you have enough money to buy or rent a trailer (let alone have something worth towing in the first place) you can afford a five to ten dollar magnet. U-haul—and such companies—could provide these magnets as part of their regular equipment. Sure, it's not going to make your car prettier, but neither is that dumb peeing Calvin decal or that 'My kid got your honor roll student pregnant' bumper sticker. (Yeah, I saw one of these. Gross.) Anyway, this isn't about aesthetics, it's about safety.

The In Tow Magnet/Cling at work:

In terms of design, we use a clear symbol of a trailer set in the direction that it's being towed, within an arrow pointing in the same direction. The magnet is cut in the shape of this arrow and would be produced in warning colors or either neon green, construction orange, or high-visibility yellow. Like most warning systems, the decal would be manufactured with reflective qualities making it visible during night towing. The driver could choose a color to best contrast the color of the car he is driving, and place one decal on each of his or her back fenders. Pretty simple.

Nobody. I mean nobody expects an old Saturn to be towing anything:

The In Tow Magnets/Clings:

Even if they've never seen this magnet the fact that it is there might give the driver next to you pause—enough of a pause to help prevent an accident. If the magnets were to be implemented on a wide scale, or even a legal requirement, then everyone would know to look for them. A win in either case.

Just something I was thinking about on a long stretch of road in Colorado. Not sure if anyone makes something like this or not, but I think it's a good idea. Over and out.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (10)

You just made somebody a ton of money!! Get together with that old sign maker you know!
August 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWilburforce
Excellent!!!! Simply Excellent...

I also suggested a Fiberglass White Pole on each end with DOT Type C-2 Tape.

The industry paid over 100,000 to fight the Virginia Reflector Tape Law in Virginia. We have the Farmers Who along with Farm Brueau Insurance fight House Bill 145 in Virginia.

We have the Motorcycle Clubs in Virginia also fight House Bill 145.

If these cheap companies fight the Reflector Tape Law...they will also fight this. I think it is great. But most people would rather spend $100.00 on a fancy dinner than $10.00 on a sign.

I think your sign idea is great!!
August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRon Melancon
You should do this!!!!

I have been self funded for 8 years. The industry does not want me to exist.

I am going to tell everybody about your idea. I also have a person who has a better hitch in Louisiana
and he just needs a little funding.

He was the inventor of the year...and the State approved his product

Yet the Industry wants to keep using a hitch system that does not have any UNIFORM STANDARDS.

Are you aware that anybody can build a hitch and you are good to go!!!
See this.....yes people have put them on a Smart Car....

See the story of
August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRon Melancon
Please call Jim Milazzo at 225-978-2991

and I am at 804-837-0086
August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRon Melancon
This is your idea...and this can take off!!!!!!

Copyright your idea today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


I think you are a great man who thinks like I do!!!! YOU CAN SAVE LIVES with your idea!!!!

You deserve and have earned it. I only want to help.....!!! What if I can get this into law? as a required in order to tow?

At the same time I can continue the cause of!!!! Each year over 460 lives gone...

Over 16,000 Injured....and nobody but I and you have noticed!!!!!
August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRon Melancon
More for you!!! Call MAX at Minueteman press..

In Virginia we have 730,000 Trailers Registered under 10,000 GVWR!!!!!!!!

You can produce the signs...and sell....better yet with Max you can even give the idea to "TeleBrands"

and it would be a smash.

I am in Desperate need of funding...and if you approve...when we get donations....of lets say $50 or more they get these signs...they help our cause...
You get a percentage and I can continue to exist.

We are simply being outspent by the Insurance companies, U haul and the Utility Trailer Manufactures...

Because they want to keep the status quote.....

No STANDARDS for a Utility Trailer..anything goes...width, size, shape, hitches.....and yes
you can make one homemade.

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRon Melancon
this was a great post!
August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA-N-D
I approve of this message. Using design in thoughtful ways to improve day to day life is a wonderful thing.
August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRon George
Maybe it’s a cultural difference (I’m not american), but I haven’t encountered “in tow” being used that way. Without the icon, I would have thought it meant the car itself was being towed.

The icon and the arrow kind of get the message across alone, but at least for me the text actively fought against the correct interpretation. Surely there’s a more standard, universal way of writing it? Towing?

Otherwise, a great idea – and like any great idea, it’s one that seems so damned obvious *after* you hear it.
August 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul
Hey J,

You are a genius, This will would make people's lives way better. I wonder if I need one for my bike rack.
September 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermejia

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.