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5 Safety Trailer Guidelines from NATM

Anybody can build a utility trailer with a little know-how and a lot of skill. But making a safe trailer? That’s when things get a little tricky.


Bringing a trailer up to meet the minimum safety guidelines from the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers isn’t difficult from a technical standpoint. But, you still have to know what needs to be changed and added.


Most of the NATM guidelines focus around the proper use of reflective tape, lights and record keeping.


Reflective Tape

If your trailer is compliant with the latest NATM regulations, it’ll have reflective tape strategically placed on the bumper and frame in the following places:

  • Rear of trailer as near to the top and as far left and right as possible

  • Edge of the tape should be at least 3″ away from the nearest edge of a lamp

  • Lamps that a red in color may be within 3″ adjacent to red reflective tape

  • On the rear of the trailer, 2″ horizontal red and white tape must be along the full width between 15″ and 60″ off the ground

  • Horizontal 2″ tape, red and white in color, must be spaced over at least half of the trailer length, between 15″ and 60″ off the ground

  • Continuously placed on the rear bumper or underride guard, if present

Trailer Lights

If you’re going to take your utility trailer on the road and have it meet all of the NATM guidelines, it needs lights. A lot of them. Here’s what you need:

  • Tail lamps

  • Rear turn lamps

  • Rear reflex reflectors

  • License plate lamps

  • Rear side marker lamp

  • Rear side reflex reflectors

  • Front side marker lamps

  • Front side reflex reflectors

  • Stop Lamps

That’s not the end, however. Trailers longer than 30′ require:

  • Intermediate side reflex reflectors

  • Intermediate side marker lights

And utility trailers wider than 80″ also require:

  • Rear clearance lamps

  • Front clearance lamps

  • Rear identification lamps

Running Gear

If your trailer meets the NATM guidelines for brake systems, tires and similar parts, you’ll be good to go on any road. Here’s a checklist for running gear:

  • If your trailer is destined for commercial use, it needs to meet federal brake standards

  • Anti lock brakes used when required

  • Hydraulic braking systems need to be built around DOT approved hoses

  • Breakaway battery kits need to be able to hold the brakes in place for a 15 minute minimum

  • Maintain proper tire records to first purchaser

  • Related to the final point: It’s illegal to put used tires on a new trailer.

Document, document, document

In addition to placing all appropriate lights and reflective tape on NATM-approved trailers, manufacturers also have to take a few additional steps:

  • Inclusion on the NHTSA database, with products and VIN identifiers present as well

  • Records kept for each unit made, complete with VIN, dealer name, and addresses of sold units

  • A system for assigning Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings needs to be available, covering all applicable components

  • Manufacturers also have to make available supplier data for parts like safety chains, lighting specifications, axle and coupler capacities


NATM Guidelines Compliant Trailers Remove All Doubt

As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into ensuring that your utility trailer is up to par. For many consumers, purchasing a utility trailer from an authorized dealer is going to be the easiest, most legal route to a compliant trailer.


Make sure that your trailer is showing off a NATM sticker. It’s the best way to make sure that it’s as safe as possible!

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