How to put the bite on deadhead trucking

Driving a semi-truck with an empty trailer—also known as deadhead trucking–often happens on the return trip, creating a problem for carriers that those in the transportation industry commonly refer to as empty miles.

While you might think it would make sense to ensure there’s backhaul available, it’s not a simple problem to solve without technology. Empty miles are a poorly tracked and poorly understood phenomenon for many carriers and the transportation industry as a whole.

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 (one reason they can report aggregate empty miles statistics in financial reports).

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

And many carriers just don’t yet have the wherewithal or experience to harness the advances in data and technology that make it easier to track and reduce empty miles. Furthermore, 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 optimize.

Deadhead trucking: Just a symptom

Deadhead trucking is a classic symptom of poor efficiency and wasted resources that can also have expensive and unintended consequences:

  • As Trucking Watchdog reports, a deadheading truck is 2.5x more likely to crash than a truck carrying freight.
  • Convoy research notes that 35% of trucks drive empty, meaning carriers not only add wear and tear, depreciate equipment, pay for fuel and tires but lose the opportunity for additional revenue.
  • Owner-operators are particularly apt to build deadhead trucking operating costs into rates where possible.
    So while deadhead trucking and empty miles appear to be a carrier-specific hazard, they can also be the bane of supply chain optimization, too, since empty mile costs can jack up freight rates and expenses for both shippers and ultimately consumers.
  • Empty trucks contribute substantially to road and infrastructure degradation and account for more than 205 million metric tons of CO2 emissions per year.

How the right TMS supports route visibility, limits deadhead trucking

Luckily, carriers can solve the long-term problem of route visibility with an intelligent, optimized TMS that not only alleviates deadhead trucking but also ensures efficient load management:

  • The smart load matching feature enables carriers to evaluate each driver, look at the load detail, view the driver location relative to the load, and incorporate hours of service (HOS) data to view a load’s profit. The Axele TMS considers thousands of potential shipments from load boards, inserts these into the driver’s route, assesses whether the driver can transport this load, and calculates the driver’s per-mile or per-day revenue.
  • Smart trip planning generates trip plans for drivers that meet HOS restrictions and provide more precise arrival times. The Axele TMS develops the driver’s hour-by-hour plan. It factors in drivers’ available work hours, pick-up 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.
  • Smart driver selection matches the best drivers to loads using HOS data. For example, if a driver has operated 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 realistically, they have an additional 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.  

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.

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