Expertly Reviewed By: Serah Waweru, Esq., on May 15, 2023
Have you ever heard of the term ‘bobtailing,’ but you’re unsure what it means? If so, you’re not alone. This phrase is pretty common in the trucking industry, although it is also used in many other settings. While there’s so much to know about bobtailing, we’ll cover the most important aspects, which include the origin of the term and what it entails. We’ll also go over some tips to keep you and your loved ones safe on the road, including what to do if your safety has been compromised.
1. The Origin of the Term’ Bobtailing’
Before we even discuss where the term bobtailing hails from, let’s learn a thing or two about certain parts of a truck.
Semi-trucks consist of two major parts: the front cab and the trailer. The front cab is the driver’s compartment, while the trailer is the section where the cargo sits.
Bobtailing is when a truck driver drives a truck without its trailer attached to the front cab. This term dates back to the 19th century from the lines of a classic holiday song, Jingle Bells. In the song, the composer, James Pierpont, mentions ‘bells on bobtails’ referring to horses with cut tails to avoid getting entangled in the horse-drawn sleighs. However, some believe this term originates from a breed of cats with short tails.
Either way, a semi-truck without its trailer almost looks like a horse or cat without its tail.
2. Why Bobtailing Happens
Semi-trucks aren’t designed for bobtailing. But for one reason or another, a truck driver may have no choice but to drive a semi-truck without its trailer.
For example, they may bobtail after dropping off cargo and heading for another pick-up or after a shift and heading back to their terminal to pack the trailer.
Despite the reasons for bobtailing, the driver must be exceptionally skilled in driving and controlling a bobtail truck to avoid causing accidents. On the other hand, other road users must take caution when sharing the road with bobtail trucks.
Some of the precautions other motorists should take while sharing the road with bobtail trucks include:
- Keeping a safe distance because bobtail trucks need a longer braking distance.
- Avoiding blind spots since truck drivers have limited vision around the truck, which puts motorists at a higher risk of crashing or colliding with the truck.
- Driving defensively and being prepared for the unexpected when sharing the road with trucks.
- Overtaking cautiously because trucks move slower than passenger vehicles.
- Signaling the truck driver when changing lanes, which gives them sufficient time to react to actions by other motorists, such as changing lanes.
3. Bobtail Trucks Are Dangerous
Like loaded trucks, bobtail trucks are equally dangerous and pose a high risk of collisions. This is because detaching the truck’s trailer changes its braking mechanism, making it difficult to maneuver for most drivers.
Here’s how that happens.
Trucks carry most of their weight on the trailer section. As a result, most of their braking power is in the rear axle below the trailer. On the other hand, the front wheels are designed for steering the truck while driving. However, bobtailing distorts this mechanism, making the truck more susceptible to skidding, swerving, and losing control.
The truck has reduced braking power in bobtailing because it doesn’t have a rear axle. In addition, it bears most of its weight on the front wheels when bobtailing, which are built for steering rather than braking. As a result, a bobtail truck requires a longer braking distance to come to a halt.
This can be quite dangerous, especially in situations where the truck driver needs to stop immediately.
Because of these changes in mechanism, bobtailing can be very dangerous, especially when driving on winding, steep, or wet roads. Sadly, other motorists may not perceive bobtail trucks as dangerous and may drive too close to them.
Don’t forget that not all truck drivers have the experience and expertise to drive bobtail trucks safely.
Even if a truck driver can drive a bobtail truck safely, doing so on busy roads may be difficult. For instance, if a motorist brakes suddenly in front of a bobtail truck, the trucker may be forced to slam on their brakes without warning. Unfortunately, the truck may not be able to stop soon enough to avoid a collision.
4. You Can Sue After a Bobtail Truck Accident
After all is said and done, truck drivers are responsible for ensuring they drive safely to avoid causing harm to other road users. Regardless of the circumstances, they should be well-trained to operate these trucks, whether bobtailing or transporting cargo from one place to another.
Despite that, truck accidents are still common throughout the country, and the numbers are beyond shocking. Just to give you some perspective, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that around 31,785 people died within the first nine months of 2022. That’s about 116 people killed in a single day!
In many cases, these accidents occur due to due someone’s negligence. And when they do, victims often sustain serious injuries and face huge medical bills while fighting for their lives.
But you don’t deserve to suffer in silence due to a truck driver’s negligence. If you or your loved one has been involved in a bobtail truck accident, you may be able to sue the at-fault party.
An experienced truck accident attorney can review your case and determine whether you have a valid reason to sue the parties responsible for the injuries and damages you sustained. If your claim is valid, the attorney may help you pursue compensation.
Because these accidents often result in serious and often devastating injuries (that is, if you’re even lucky to be alive), some of the damages you may be able to recover include:
- The cost of your medical expenses, including hospital bills, doctor visits, surgery, physical therapy, etc.
- Lost wages, which include any income you would have earned if you had not been injured.
- Pain and suffering which is the physical and emotional distress you or a loved one experienced as a result of the accident. Examples include physical pain, emotional trauma, and loss of enjoyment of life.
- The cost of repairing or replacing property damaged in the accident.
If the other party’s conduct was particularly reckless, you may also be able to recover punitive damages intended to punish them and deter others from similar behavior.
5. The Difference Between Bobtailing and Deadheading
Many people often confuse bobtailing for deadheading and vice versa. Although these terms have some similarities, they differ in many ways.
Unlike bobtailing, deadheading (or deadhead trucking) involves driving a truck with its trailer attached but without cargo. Both cases are similar because the drivers aren’t transporting goods from one place to another.
Note that the reasons for bobtailing and deadheading may also be similar — a truck driver may have just concluded a shift or may be heading to pick up cargo when bobtailing or deadheading.
It is also worth mentioning that most truck drivers dislike bobtailing and deadheading because they lose money, time, and fuel when they aren’t carrying any freight, not forgetting the high risks of collisions and accidents in both cases.
That said, deadheading is even riskier.
Without cargo, a trailer may be unstable and difficult to control while driving on steep or winding roads. The weight distribution changes when a truck is empty, making it challenging to control certain actions, such as instant braking or steering while driving.
Sometimes, harsh weather conditions such as strong winds and heavy rains make it difficult for truckers to keep the empty trucks steady on the road. That increases the risk of swaying between lanes, obstructing other motorists, and causing crashes and collisions.
Bobtail trucks are hard to miss on major highways and busy roads. Although they appear smaller without trailers, these trucks are just as dangerous as fully-loaded semi-trucks.
For instance, bobtailing trucks have less braking power, making them prone to swerving out of control. That explains why most bobtail truck drivers often have difficulty preventing crashes when braking instantly.
Although truck drivers may want to avoid bobtailing, it may be inevitable in some cases. A good example is when they must drive across town to pick up freight. In such a situation, they may need to drive an empty truck, also called deadheading, or drive the truck without its trailer.
Despite such challenges, truckers and other road users are responsible for driving safely to prevent truck accidents. Motorists should keep a safe distance behind a bobtailing truck and avoid lingering in its blind spots. On the other hand, truckers must be more careful when driving, given the numerous challenges of bobtailing a truck.
Sometimes, however, truck accidents may be inevitable. If you’re a victim of such accidents, you may be able to file a claim with the truck driver’s insurance company (or your own insurance provider) for compensation.
Consulting a truck accident attorney is the best way to learn more about your case, particularly whether you have legal grounds to file a claim or lawsuit. If the case is valid, you may be able to seek compensation for damages such as medical expenses, damaged properties, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.