Cutting deadhead trucking

Learn about deadhead trucking, which refers to the miles a trucker drives with an empty trailer between loads.

Truckers often travel long distances hauling empty trailers. These miles, referred to as deadhead trucking, are often considered a waste of resources, leading to higher costs, equipment wear and tear, and safety risks.

However, technology and data advancements have made it possible for carriers to reduce the number of deadhead miles by improving their route optimization and load management.

What is deadhead trucking?

Deadhead trucking refers to the the miles a trucker drives with an empty trailer between loads.

Other terms for deadhead trucking include:

  • Empty miles.
  • Deadhead miles.

But not all deadhead miles are created the same. These empty trips can cover a simple local or cross-country tour of thousands of miles. And many empty trucks are plying U.S. highways: Convoy research revealed that trucks drive empty 35% of the time.

What causes deadhead trucking?

Deadhead trucking results from complicated routing. 

Larger fleets have capital to invest in route optimization. But smaller carriers need more visibility to improve routes and avoid waste. 

Luckily, smaller fleets have options for cutting deadhead trucking.

The many costs of deadhead trucking

Deadhead trucking costs you in several ways, including the points below.

Extra costs

Carriers, brokers, and contractors often add an incentive to trucking job assignments. They sometimes pay drivers for deadhead mileage to prompt a driver to travel outside a specific area for pickups. But owner-operators and independent contractors may not get paid for the deadhead miles they drive. Or will only receive a tiny portion of the diesel cost per mile.

Equipment wear and tear

It’s an old maxim: A rig in motion endures road and weather wear and tear. But if a significant portion of your miles is deadhead miles, there’s often no income to offset operational costs.

Waste and passed-on costs

A truck driving deadhead means the carrier will likely need to build operating costs into rates where possible. Shippers and consumers end up paying the bill for deadhead miles—including the emissions the truck generates while it’s empty and in transit.

Accident risk

An empty trailer weighs about half as much as a full one. And according to Trucking Watchdog, a truck deadheading is 2.5x more likely to crash. Safety courses for truck drivers cover high winds and road safety. But severe weather is another story when running a light rig. Drivers need to know the truck’s sail area, follow Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) pre-trip inspection before rides, lower speeds to reduce wind force, and constantly check weather and travel reports. All that time spent adds up quickly, too.

How to avoid deadhead trucking

Ensuring there’s backhaul available is tough to solve without technology. Deadhead miles are a poorly tracked and poorly understood metric for many carriers and the transportation industry.

Many asset-based carriers have long used electronic tracking devices in their vehicles—for example, electronic logging devices (ELDs). This approach gives them more control over the information about the loads their drivers are carrying.

But non-optimized carriers don’t have visibility into their best routing options. Even brokers working with a network of independent carriers or owner-operators rarely have complete visibility into a driver’s schedule.

Many carriers lack the ability or experience to harness advances in data and technology that make cutting deadhead miles easier. And when they decide to move towards freight and route optimization, deadhead trucking miles are rarely the only—or even the primary metric—carriers are looking to improve.

Reducing deadhead trucking helps carriers increase profits and lets shippers tap into all available capacity via digital freight matching tools.

The best way to avoid deadhead miles is to take advantage of the technology geared to freight and load optimization—some of which aim to communicate with—and track—drivers and determine their availability.

How the right TMS reduces deadhead trucking

Carriers can solve the long-term problem of route visibility with an intelligent TMS like LoadOps. LoadOps not only cuts deadhead trucking but also ensures better load management with:

Smart load matching

Smart load matching helps carriers:

  • Evaluate each driver.
  • Look at the load detail.
  • View the driver location relative to the load.
  • Consider hours of service (HOS) data to view a load’s profit. 

LoadOps considers thousands of potential shipments from load boards, inserts these into the driver’s route, sees whether the driver can transport this load, and calculates the driver’s per-mile or per-day revenue.

Real-time load matching opportunities pushed straight to a driver’s smartphone are especially useful for owner-operators. Other applications combine mobile cloud and GPS technology to streamline and add value to drivers’ routes and can even be integrated with electronic logging devices (ELDs) and hours-of-service (HOS) data.

Smart trip planning

Smart trip planning creates trip plans for drivers that meet HOS limits and provide more precise arrival times. LoadOps develops the driver’s hourly plan. It factors drivers’ available work hours, pickup and delivery time windows, travel times, fuel stops, rest stops, and weigh stations, adjusting the trip plan and estimated arrival times automatically as the driver moves along their route.

GPS technology cuts the time spent at load boards. When carriers can find loads via location vs. traveling deadhead miles, shippers receive better rates, drivers don’t waste time, and carriers streamline their entire process.

Smart driver selection

Smart driver selection matches the best drivers to loads using HOS data. For example, if a driver has worked for 11 hours during a particular day, they cannot take another trip that day and must rest for at least 8 hours. But if the carrier’s load requires them to drive 6 hours, then they have 5 hours of driving they can do for the day and may have time available to pick up another load and complete it before they reach their HOS limits. 

Ready to reduce deadhead trucking?

Route visibility, efficiency, and freight optimization are critical for carriers in a shipping world beset by endless supply chain and trucking disruption these days—and there’s much more disruption ahead. In this environment, new data and technology provide the tools to progress toward real reductions in deadhead trucking.

LoadOps, the intelligent TMS, helps reduce deadhead miles and improve trucking efficiencies with smart trip planning, smart load selection, and smart tracking of driver schedules. You can see which drivers can take a deadhead load and fill those empty miles.

Learn more about LoadOps to put the bite on deadhead trucking today.

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