Cutting deadhead miles

Deadhead miles, also known as “empty miles,” are the miles a trucker hauls an empty trailer while returning to home base after dropping off a load or driving elsewhere to pick up another load.

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

Deadhead miles result from complicated routing. And while larger fleets generally have a more substantial reserve of working capital to invest in route optimization technology to deal with deadhead, smaller carriers might lack visibility to create efficient routes to avoid waste. But smaller fleets have options for avoiding the inefficiency of deadhead miles.

The many costs of deadhead miles

If you’re racking up way too many deadhead miles and want to think harder about optimizing your fleet—whatever the size–consider these factoids:

Extra costs

Carriers, brokers, and contractors often add an incentive to trucking job assignments, paying drivers for deadhead mileage—for example, to prompt a driver to travel outside of a specific area for pickups. But owner-operators and independent contractors may not get reimbursed 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 are deadhead miles, there’s often no income to offset these operational costs of tires, engines, and trailers, to name a few.

Waste and passed-on costs

An empty heavy-duty truck traveling down the road means the carrier will likely need to build those operating costs into rates where possible. It’s probably no surprise that shippers and consumers end up paying the bill for deadhead miles—including the avoidable 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, 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 altogether 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 miles

Reducing empty miles helps carriers increase profits and lets shippers tap into all available capacity aggregated via digital freight matching tools.

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

First, real-time load matching opportunities pushed straight to a driver’s smartphone are especially useful for owner-operators. Other applications combine the power of the 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.

GPS technology eliminates 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.

Users employ technology to bundle low- and high-volume lanes at a discount to add more appeal for the shippers to travel a route. This approach can even help logistics service providers (LSPs) earn shipper loyalty and increase the possibility for closed-loop routes. And consolidating two loads lets carriers maximize the paid time on a trip.

Some carriers choose a TMS to reduce empty, idling carriers and carbon emissions. A TMS lets themmatch the driver with a nearby delivery if the destination is on the driver’s existing route—all while considering HOS and other driver and load criteria–and can aid in making sure backhauls gain coverage and reduce deadhead miles.             

Ready to optimize your network?

There’s a lot to gain by exploring how to start your journey with a TMS.

The LoadOps TMS can help 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 will be available to take a deadhead load and fill those empty miles.

Learn more about LoadOps.

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