Motorcycles have a visibility problem because they’re small and have a narrow profile. Because of this, defensive motorcyclists ride as though they’re invisible to other traffic. By contrast, tractor-trailer rigs are among the largest vehicles on the road. Some of their drivers assume that everyone sees them and drive accordingly. That is, they count on other traffic to brake for them. While not all commercial or owner operator truck drivers do this, it is an easy habit to fall into.
However, there are circumstances in which your trailer is difficult to see. In fact, many side and rear under-ride collisions of cars with trucks occur during these low visibility situations. Here are two of them:
The Sun Is Low in the Sky
A rising or setting sun produces glare in the direction of traffic driving toward it. Keep this in mind when pulling an unloaded flatbed trailer. Unloaded flatbeds have a thin profile that can be nearly invisible to the motorist blinded by glare. This can happen when a truck makes a left turn onto a busy roadway. As the flatbed cuts across the lane with opposing traffic, a car in the lane may collide into the trailer because of sun glare. Allow plenty of distance when pulling in front of oncoming traffic, especially in conditions of glare.
There’s a defensive driving rule that states you should never out drive your headlights. Unfortunately, too many motorists don’t observe this. When driving at night, don’t count on traffic seeing your trailer when making the left turn described above or when crossing a highway. When making the aforementioned left turn, oncoming traffic (in the road you’re turning onto) will see your tractor headlights in the lane to their left but not necessarily your trailer crossing their lane.
To them, the situation appears as though you are completely in their opposing lane. By the time they see your trailer in front of them it could be too late. A car driving 60 mph travels 88 feet per second. The glare of your headlights could mean they won’t see your trailer until it’s 176 feet or less away. This only gives them about two seconds to react and come to a stop. This is true of a box trailer and especially of an empty flatbed trailer. Here is a video animation of this.
Never assume that your large size means everyone sees you. Circumstances such as the two above can make your trailer invisible. Inspect and maintain your trailer lights. Keep them and your trailer reflective tape clean of dirt and mud.