​After drivers have delivered their cargo to its final destination or when they are going to pick up a new load, they may relax and assume the hard part is over or has yet to come. However, these trips can present unique hazards due to driving bobtail units or light or empty loads. To compensate for their trucks not being weighed down by cargo, drivers will have to adjust how they brake, increase their following distance and recheck their vehicle clearance.

A truck’s brake system is designed to operate best with a full load, so the brakes will feel different when driving a bobtail unit or light or empty load. Brakes will be touchy, more sensitive than normal and will take less pressure to slow down the truck. It is easy for drivers to over-brake and lock up their wheels when driving under these conditions. 

Engine retarders are not safe when driving bobtail units or light or empty loads. They can cause the drive axles to slow down too quickly and lose traction, which causes the truck to slide uncontrollably or jackknife, especially if the pavement is not dry and clean.

Driving bobtail units or light or empty loads will reduce traction, so drivers should increase their following distance and allow more time for braking. Drivers should also avoid applying the brakes suddenly as it can cause their wheels to lock or bounce, losing full braking ability. On slippery surfaces, drivers of light or empty loads need to be extra cautious and allow even more time to brake.

Another factor drivers need to consider is that their trucks may ride a few inches higher when not weighed down with cargo. After unloading a delivery, drivers should recheck their vehicle clearance to see if it has changed. This quick step should not be skipped by drivers in a hurry because a few inches can be the difference between colliding with a tunnel, sign or other object on the road, and returning home safely.

Drivers need to be aware of the effects of driving a bobtail unit or light or empty load on their brakes, following distance and vehicle clearance. Please refer to the Resource Library for a training video to help educate your drivers about these unique hazards.
  • Categorized in:
  • Transportation Safety
  • Driving Techniques