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Heavy Haul

Deadhead Miles

Deadheads. Deadhead miles. Deadhead trucks. Tractor-trailers sometimes have empty flatbeds attached or they might not have a trailer hooked up.  In trucking terminology, if a truck doesn’t have a trailer attached, it’s a deadhead truck. It means that the driver dropped off a load and is on their way to pick up another load. The concern is, though, when driving without cargo, drivers can lose money, as they still have to pay for fuel in between destinations. 

Here’s information on how to avoid deadhead miles and increase profitability between loads. 

deadhead miles

What are deadhead miles? 

A deadhead truck is not the same as bobtailing, a word that references driving a cargo truck that doesn’t have a semi-trailer hooked up to it. This is different from deadhead miles. When a driver drops off a load and travels to pick up another load, the distance in miles they travel are deadhead miles. 

Drivers have times when they’re not carrying loads. These are unprofitable miles if they’re not paid for mileage in between pickups. It’s concerning for drivers because they have to pay for extra gas. If there’s no load to carry, they’re losing money. 

The goal for drivers is to only go relatively short distances without cargo. Drivers have to carefully monitor the money they make. They have to pay their IFTA taxes plus make money, be profitable, etc. If they can’t make that payment, they’re not eligible for an IFTA sticker in the future. 

Do drivers get paid for deadhead miles?

As an incentive, drivers might receive pay for deadhead mileage. Some drivers get deadhead pay because they may not want to travel outside of a specific area for pickups. Drivers don’t want empty trucks between loads. Here’s why:

Let’s say a trucker drops off a load in New York and then picks up a load in Florida where he wants to vacation over the winter. He will have about 1,000 deadhead miles to cover to reach his next destination. 

To avoid the financial impact of deadheading, brokers and contractors add an incentive to some of their trucking job assignments. A broker or contractor might pay $.60 or $.90-cents per deadhead mile. This gives the driver money to cover costs ad be profitable. That same driver heading to Florida might make a pickup on his route for extra money if a broker pays deadhead mileage. Finding more deadhead mileage jobs also means less wasted fuel cutting into profits. 

Keep in mind, not every broker pays deadhead miles. If you’re an owner-operator,  this is a big consideration. It’s not as big a factor if you’re a company driver as you’ll likely receive deadhead pay.

Use load boards to limit deadhead miles.

Not every lane is perfect, and drivers often look for ways to help them avoid deadheading. Truckers who need additional loads have a few options to help them avoid wasting diesel and cutting into their pay. However, it sometimes takes careful planning before their trips. 

One way is to check for deadhead mileage. When a driver looks up new broker jobs, they can check to see if a broker is including deadhead mileage. This can help to cover the cost of mileage if a driver has to drive for great distances.

Drivers might also want to look for loads that require return material. This can help drivers keep their truck weighed down, especially in the winter months when high winds are a factor. If a driver can’t find a return load with the same broker, it might help to check with nearby brokers or contractors in the area. 

Another area to explore is using load boards. These are convenient online job boards that connect shippers and carriers. Truckers can find available freight on their given routes. They can also find loads in other destinations if they want to head south for warmer weather, for example. 

Deadhead trucking can be dangerous. 

Deadheading truckers face all kinds of roadway challenges. From black ice to high winds, drivers need to take extra caution. A deadhead vehicle might weigh half its weight than when it’s full and can cause serious injuries. 

Weather can wreak havoc. 

Severe weather (black ice, sleet, freezing rain) can affect travel. Another concern is high winds that make it easy for a big-rig to sway or flip over. Some deadheading drivers avoid bridges and take extra precautions during hurricane season. However, severe weather is sometimes unavoidable and causes traffic delays. And, that’s what happened in Utah. 

On September 8, 2020, 45 semi-trucks toppled over on Utah roadways as winds reached 75-77mph. A truck’s vulnerability stems from its wide sail area (similar to a sailboat), making them vulnerable to wind interference. A 53-foot by 9-foot truck can have a sail area that’s 500-square-feet. The same winds that only shake a passenger car can flip an empty truck. 

Truckers aren’t trained to deadhead.

Truck driving safety training courses cover high winds and road safety. However, driving through severe weather is quite different. Deadheading drivers need to be cautious with severe weather. 

Safety tips include:

  • Know the truck’s sail area (varies by truck size).
  • Secure doors and loose items.
  • Follow the FMCSR pre-trip inspection before rides.
  • Lower speeds to reduce wind force.
  • Check the weather and travel reports (current location, destination).
  • Observe road signs and landmarks (shaking road signs, grass blowing horizontally).
  • When uncertain, slow down or pull over to stay safe.

Get access to load jobs and limit deadhead miles.

Truckstop.com has a convenient online load board. The planning tool helps drivers reduce deadhead mileage. With access to thousands of trucking jobs, drivers won’t have to worry about deadheading. The app works on smartphones and tablets. It lets drivers customize their load searches, view routes, and estimate deadhead mileage pay, and load rates. Drivers can run credit checks on brokers and even see rates if they want to inquire about a particular job. Check out the load board on Truckstop.com today!  

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