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Trailer Brake Requirements

The focus in this information is on small to medium duty trailers often used in business operations that fall under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

Although trailers are required to be manufactured to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) many may not be designed or manufactured to meet Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation standards (FMCSR).  The trailer you may use to transport a heavy boat or recreational vehicle for personal use may not meet motor carrier standards and a carrier must be aware of the important differences in regulations.

When a trailer meets the definition of a commercial motor vehicle and is subject to the FMCSR’s the standards are in fact higher than the general public or a non-motor carrier entity.

If you have a trailer used in the furtherance of a commercial enterprise that either weighs over 10,001lbs or is combined with a towing unit with a combination weight (GCW) over 10,001lbs these brake regulations apply when the trailer weights 3,000lbs or more actual weight.

Requirements:

Brakes are required on ALL wheel ends meaning if you have a 2-axle trailer 4 brake sets on each wheel end will exist. Often small or medium duty trailers only have brakes on one axle. If that existed and it was used in commerce it would be in violation and placed out of service for having more than 20% of its brake missing.

In addition, the trailer is required to have an emergency break-away device. The device must activate immediately upon unanticipated separation of the trailer. If the trailer is equipped with electric brakes the battery reserve battery must be high enough to activate and hold the brakes on for at least 15 minutes.

During pre-trip inspections, it is important to be sure the break-away device is connected to the towing vehicle along with secure hitch and safety chain requirements. A brake and break-away deficiency is easily observed by enforcement by observing no connection or no brake hubs on wheel ends.  During routine maintenance if equipped with electric brakes the battery must be charged and checked to ensure dependability.    

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