Deadhead Trucking: What It Is, Drawbacks, and How To Reduce It

Deadhead Trucking: What It Is, Drawbacks, and How To Reduce It

In logistics, deadhead trucking is a topic that shippers cannot overlook. Understanding deadhead trucking becomes crucial as businesses strive to optimize their supply chain operations and reduce costs.

This article delves into the intricacies of the deadhead mile in the trucking industry – from its definition to its drawbacks. It also offers practical tips for reducing deadhead miles in your business operations.

What is Deadhead Trucking?

Deadhead trucking is when a truck driver transports an empty trailer after delivering cargo, resulting in wasted fuel and resources. This situation affects businesses by increasing transportation costs and reducing overall efficiency. Here’s a look at deadhead trucking, its effects on companies, and how to minimize it.

What Are the Drawbacks of Deadhead Trucking?

Although the semi truck industry deems deadhead miles as essential, deadhead trucking can cause significant losses and negative impacts to businesses, such as:

  • Increased Operational Costs: Empty trailers consume fuel like loaded ones; however, they don’t generate any income during these trips. As a result, companies incur additional expenses due to increased fuel consumption and maintenance requirements.
  • Limited Efficiency: More time spent on unproductive trips between destinations instead of moving cargo from one place to another efficiently contributes negatively toward overall operational efficiency.
  • Negative Environmental Impact: More deadhead miles mean higher carbon emissions and more significant wear-and-tear on roads due to unnecessary travel with no economic benefit generated in return.
  • Riskier Driving Conditions: An empty trailer has different handling characteristics than one fully loaded with cargo; it tends to be more unstable due to its lighter weight. As a result, drivers may face increased risks during high winds or sudden braking situations when operating an empty rig. 
  • Lost Revenue Opportunities: Every mile driven without cargo in an empty trailer is a missed opportunity to generate revenue. Deadhead miles can quickly add up, leading to significant losses in potential earnings for trucking companies and independent owner-operators. 
  • Inefficient Use of Resources: Deadheading wastes fuel and contributes to traffic congestion, increased wear on roads, and inefficient use of truck driver hours. With the ongoing driver shortage issue in the industry, it’s more important than ever for companies to maximize the productivity of their drivers by minimizing empty trips whenever possible.

Tips for Reducing Deadhead Miles

Reducing deadhead miles is essential to improving the efficiency and profitability of your trucking operations. 

Here are some strategies that can help you minimize empty miles and optimize your logistics processes:

Utilize Digital Freight Matching Platforms

Digital freight matching platforms connect shippers with available carriers based on their requirements, helping drivers find cargo more efficiently and avoid deadheading. 

These platforms use advanced algorithms to match truck drivers’ loads with trucks in real-time, ensuring optimal utilization of truck driver resources and time.

Plan Efficient Routes

Meticulous route planning can significantly reduce deadhead miles by identifying the most efficient routes between pick-up and delivery points. 

Businesses can use routing software solutions to analyze traffic patterns, weather conditions, fuel costs, tolls, and other factors to determine the best routes for their fleet.

Establish Strong Relationships with Shippers & Brokers

Strong relationships with shippers and brokers will increase your chances of securing backhaul opportunities or finding additional cargo along your route. 

By maintaining open communication channels and providing excellent service consistently, you’ll be better positioned to receive referrals from companies that may have loads they need to be moved in return.

Optimize Load Scheduling

Optimizing load scheduling is another effective way to avoid deadheading. By carefully analyzing the availability of drivers, equipment, and cargo, you can create a schedule that maximizes fleet utilization while minimizing empty miles. 

Monitor Driver Performance

Regularly monitoring driver performance can help identify inefficiencies that contribute to deadhead miles. 

Using telematics solutions, owner operators can track key metrics such as fuel consumption, less weight, idle time, route adherence, and more – allowing them to address any issues promptly and improve company drivers’ overall operational efficiency.


If you still have questions about deadhead trucking, we’ve got answers. Here are some commonly asked inquiries.

What does deadhead mean in logistics?

In logistics, “deadhead” refers to a truck traveling without any cargo or load. This event usually occurs when a driver has completed their delivery and needs to return to their base location or pick up another shipment. 

Deadheading results in wasted fuel, time, and resources for both the driver of the deadhead truck and the trucking company they work for since empty trucks do not generate revenue.

Why is it called deadhead?

The term “deadhead” originates from railroad terminology used during the 19th century. It referred to train cars that were being moved without passengers or freight on board – essentially non-revenue generating trips similar to what happens with empty trucks today. 

The name stuck around as transportation methods evolved over time and eventually became synonymous with situations where vehicles traveled without carrying any goods.

What is backhaul vs deadhead?

In logistics, backhaul refers to transporting goods or cargo on the return leg of a journey after delivering the initial load. It is an efficient way to utilize transportation resources by minimizing the empty load, or wasted trips. Backhaul helps reduce costs and carbon emissions by maximizing the capacity of vehicles or shipping containers to haul cargo.

On the other hand, a deadhead truck, refers to the movement of a trailer attached to a transportation vehicle or container without any cargo or load. It occurs when the return trip or the empty leg of a journey is not utilized for transporting goods. Deadhead can result in inefficiencies, increased costs, traffic delays and environmental impact due to the underutilization of resources.


Businesses can implement strategies such as digital freight matching, optimizing routes, and collaborating with other companies to share cargo space to reduce deadhead trucking. 

By implementing procedures such as digital freight matching, optimizing routes and collaborating with other companies to share cargo space, businesses can save time and money while reducing their environmental impact.

If you’re looking for more information on improving your logistics operations check out Inbound Logistics. Inbound Logistics provides content to help enhance the effectiveness of your supply chain and logistics operations. If you’re curious about which trucking carriers provide the highest salaries for their drivers, check out our rundown of the 10 Best Paying Trucking Companies.