It was on a poorly lighted roadway in the dark of night that Ron Melancon bumped into the cause that's occupied him for eight years.

The Richmond, Va., resident was at the wheel of the family car when he plowed into the back of a homemade trailer. It had no taillights or reflectors, and it was painted black, which made it virtually impossible to see.

He was surprised a second time when he learned that such a towing arrangement was perfectly legal in his state. There were no regulations on trailers weighing less than 3,000 pounds in Virginia.

That's when Melancon, a former emergency medical technician, decided to learn more about how utility trailers are regulated in the U.S. He discovered that 10 states don't require registration, and nine don't require safety chains -- a fail-safe measure that keeps trailers secured if a tow hitch fails.

Then came a more worrisome discovery: He found that accidents involving trailers account for about 400 fatalities and 21,000 injuries each year. He unearthed a letter from then-Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta to Congress stating that accidents involving vehicles towing trailers increased 36 percent from 1992 to 2000.

The more he learned, the more perplexed he became.

He regularly scours the Web for news accounts of trailer accidents. His findings appear across the top of his website, "Since 1975, 15,592