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What is Deadheading In Trucking: Defensive Strategies

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semi truck trailer with doors open and empty inside
Empty dry van with both doors open

Deadheading refers to the miles driven while hauling an empty trailer. Typically, deadhead miles occur after a trucker drops off a load but must drive somewhere else to pick up another load. This becomes a problem when you have to go long distances between loads. Unless your employer pays deadhead miles, which is rare and at that a much-reduced rate, deadhead miles are an unpaid use of diesel and excess wear on your truck.

Why is deadheading dangerous?

Deadhead miles can be the riskiest part of your trip. The Curtin-Monash Accident Research Centre found that, “…driving a heavy vehicle with an empty load was associated with almost a three-fold increased crash risk compared to carrying general freight.” There seems to be three primary reasons for this:

semitruck blown by the wind and tipped on its side
Semitruck flipped on its side from high winds on the road
  1. Empty trucks are more susceptible to the weather (they have less resistance to strong winds).
  2. Truckers are often not trained to deadhead and get used to the added weight of freight.
  3. Truckers have a strong incentive to drive unsafely to get to their next load as quickly as possible given that a majority of drivers are not paid for empty miles.

However, the reality is…

Deadheading is often a necessary evil for drivers to get their next load. These risky empty miles are unavoidable, especially for hotshot owner operators.

Deadheading is uniquely threatening for owner operators and does not affect company drivers the same way. This is because, unlike owner operators, company drivers have no overhead expenses in operating the truck. Deadhead miles for an owner operator bring little to no monetary gain, rack mileage up on their truck, and possibly forces them into the red.

There are going to be unloaded miles in every truckers’ trip, but the situation with deadheading is not hopeless. There are some strategies that truckers can put in place to protect their profit margins and minimize their number of empty miles.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail…

The number one step in avoiding deadhead miles is planning your trips in advance. Take advantage of the load boards that connect carriers to shippers, through these means you can find available freight along your route and gauge the quality of the area you’re driving to.

truck driver sitting in semi with hand on his face upset
Upset driver sitting in a red semitruck holding is face

Simply do not accept low-paying loads to bad areas that are unlikely to have a load to take back out. Unless the load pays well enough to cover your deadhead out of a bad area, don’t accept the load. Sometimes loads require return materials, these jobs are ideal because there is weight in the truck during both portions of the trip. Brokers will sometimes include deadhead mileage for the job, but you won’t always have that luxury, so more often than not it is necessary for you to do the math. Find out how many miles will go unpaid if you take the load and how much time and fuel will be spent on empty miles.

The Tip Summary:

  1. Plan your trips in advance.
  2. Use load boards to assess quality and accessibility of jobs
  3. Keep an eye out for jobs requiring return materials
  4. Do the math before you accept the load to gauge if the load is profitable

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Written By Royalty Speed
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