Truck deadheading is the practice of driving a semi-truck with an empty trailer.
It happens when a trucker drops off a load but has to drive elsewhere to pick up another load. Those deadhead miles can be extremely dangerous.
A truck deadheading is 2.5x more likely to crash than a truck carrying freight.
The weather has more effect on empty trucks
You’ve seen these deadheads on the highway: one wind gust can cause a lot of trailer sway.
Truck deadheading increases the likelihood of a rollover. High winds can flip an empty truck trailer if the driver isn’t careful.
So you see a truck trailer swaying between lanes, move away from it.
It’s likely either a truck deadheading back, or the load is not very heavy. Lightweight truck trailers are more difficult for truckers to control, especially in wind, rain or snow.
Truckers aren’t trained to deadhead
CDL drivers are trained to haul cargo, not drive around an empty trailer.
The weight distribution is different, and less experienced truckers will have a harder time controlling the rig. Experience can have a real impact on safety.
The other thing to keep in mind is that some drivers aren’t paid for truck deadheading.
If that empty trailer is costing the driver money, then that driver has real incentive to drive unsafely and get back as quickly as possible. (Which is another reason truckers should be paid per hour, not per mile.)
Truckers try to avoid deadheading, and if you spot an empty trailer, you should try to avoid it, too.
Have you ever seen a semi rolled over, and wondered how it happened?
The anatomy of semi-truck rollover crash
Lots of lawyer make money talk here. Although some of it is true, most of it is greatly exaggerated. Take the comment that drivers are not trained to drive with an empty trailer, when in fact that is exactly how their training begins, pulling empty trailers around a training course and locally around the training area. Then as this says, much time is spent heading to your next load, which means your trailer is empty.
Thanks for your comment, Joe. It sounds like you were trained to drive with an empty trailer, but not all drivers have your training and experience. Others find deadheading on a windy mountain pass to be a very different experience from driving an empty trailer around a training course. Interstate drivers, or those who work for busier motor carriers, may very rarely drive empty trailers for any distance after their training – and some are not paid for that time. We are glad to hear that is not your situation.
My interest in “dead-heading” stems from what could be classified as Urban Lore; i.e. I heard long ago that Teamsters were required to carry loads only one way to keep their numbers strong. True or false?
[…] on average, all truckers drive deadhead miles about 35 percent of the time. This can be a potential safety hazard for all drivers, not just truckers. Without cargo, a trailer can easily be pushed back and forth […]