POSTED: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 9:23pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 3:21pm
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — A local man created a device that could prevent thousands of crashes involving runaway trailers. But he says he is fighting for more than the profitability of his invention.
James Milazzo built his Safe Tow hitch because he did not trust the chains he used to tow his boat trailer.
"I had no confidence in chains, and every time I would pull my boat trailer, I just never felt comfortable," he said.
"I didn't want to kill someone with my trailer coming loose, so I decided to look at making something to take the place of the chains."
His Safe Tow hitch is solid metal, making it sturdier than chains, and requires only a fresh coat of paint to maintain.
Soon after he built his first model, word got out and he began making them for friends and other people concerned about their vehicles.
In the process, he learned more about the dangers of trailers and became a safety advocate.
"These little C-links and S-hooks, they tell you don't use them in any application where safety is a factor," Milazzo said of the hooks people often use to connect their trailers.
He believes trailer safety is a bigger issue than the public considers it to be. He said that runaway trailers have killed more than 90 Louisiana residents since he invented his hitch in 2001.
"There's 400-500 deaths a year by runaway trailers (nationwide)," he claimed, "with 60,000 crashes and 15,000-20,000 injuries per year."
He makes his hitches by hand in a small workshop, but does not have the money to turn his device into a business. Nor, he said, does he want to. Instead, he would prefer to license his product to the state of Louisiana.
"I have offered this, to put them on state vehicles, through the prison enterprise system," Milazzo said, "trying to give it to taxpayers' trailers, put them on taxpayers' trailers for peanuts on the dollar."
Milazzo went to the state legislature in 2010 with the goal of passing a law to require a solid hitch, such as his, on all state-owned vehicles. The House passed his bill, but the Senate chose not to vote.
"They tabled it because they didn't have quite a grasp of what it entailed," he said. "So they wanted to table it and do a study on it, which I think they still studying it now in 2013."
He believes legislators and state officials are afraid to adopt his Safe Tow because of the higher initial cost. Milazzo said prices currently run from $60-200. But since his fixed costs are high, particularly for liability insurance, the cost would drop substantially if they were produced on a larger scale.
"But yet," argues Milazzo, "the peace of mind that it'd give you when you're pulling your trailer, and besides that, the prevention of loss of life, you can't put a dollar figure on that."
Milazzo said he will continue to promote his Safe Tow and try to make devices like it mandatory, because he does not want to see another needless death caused by a runaway trailer.
"You got to have some feelings in you to be able to see a 10-year-old child laying in a coffin," he said, "knowing that have a safety device that could've prevented that loss of life."
Other companies currently sell similar products, and Milazzo said he is considering a patent infringement lawsuit against one such competitor. But he stated that money is not his focus.
"I don't need to be a millionaire," Milazzo said. "I'm 69 years old and don't need it. What I'm wanting to do is save people's lives when I'm dead and gone."