TODAY

TODAY   |  January 22, 2014

Rossen Reports: Unhitched trailers are ‘deadly missiles’

NBC national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen reports on a potentially deadly hazard on the road: improperly hitched trailers that come loose and become “deadly missiles.”

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>>> and we're back now at 7:44. this morning on rossen reports, a hidden danger on the roadways, one you would never see coming, perhaps until it's too late. today national investigative correspondent jeff rossen is here with more on that.

>> hey, matt, good morning. this does affect all of us that drive. we see them all the time, talking about the trailers that hitch on to the back of your car. millions of people use them every day. hauling everything from boats to atvs to lawn equipment. but when they're not properly attached, they can come loose causing violent crashes. families have actually been killed just driving along in the next lane. this morning, we're about to show you how dangerous it can be.

>> this trailer just unhitched, careening out of control all over the road. just imagine this crashing through your car.

>> christy , there's been a terrible car accident .

>> christy cox lost nearly everything when this trailer broke free in another lane. it was missing a safety pin and chain. the trailer slammed into her husband's suv, tearing through the windshield and crushing the left side. this is all that was left.

>> jeremy and izzy were killed and i just fell to the ground.

>> jeremy, her husband and izzy, her 3-year-old daughter both killed instantly. only her son survived.

>> how can they be gone? they're my life.

>> according to federal officials, unhitched trailers have killed more than 300 people in recent years. in many cases, the trailers aren't latched correctly and can pop off, which is why you need two safety chains as backups, in most states, it's the law. and here's why, kare out of minneapolis set up a demonstration. at 50 miles per hour, the trailer detaches. and flails side to side. but look, those safety chains hold, no one is hurt. now, watch what happens when they take the safety chains off. same trailer, same speed, it breaks loose and swerves out of control. there's no way to stop it. on a real highway, this could have been deadly.

>> they're a missile going down the roadway.

>> it's such a big problem oklahoma state troopers patrol for this every day. when we tagged along --

>> there we go.

>> they quickly found trailers that could be dangerous sharing the road with you.

>> i noticed you didn't have your safety chains connected to your trailer.

>> this driver admits he's been out all day without chains.

>> this is an accident waiting to happen.

>> that driver promised to fix it within a minute, police spot another trailer in violation and pull him over.

>> you only have one chain connected to your trailer, you're required to have two.

>> the driver told us the chain broke and he didn't have time to get it fixed.

>> have you thought about how dangerous this could be?

>> not until today.

>> wake-up call.

>> wake-up call.

>> get that fixed.

>> i will.

>> a one-minute fix to a $10 part that could literally save lives.

>> two chains are pretty basic. that decision, which could've taken just moments and they would still be here today.

>> i want to thank christy cox for being brave and sharing her story with us. police say these accidents are completely preventable, takes only 30 to 60 seconds to secure these trailers the right way. if you're not sure how to do it and about to get on the road today with the trailer, all you have to do is go to today.com, we have posted there right now step by step instructions how to hook these trailers up safely and save some lives here.

>> jeff, thank you very much.