Truck drivers face a lot of risks as they carry out their jobs. As a truck driver, you may think that going to pick up cargo is the easiest part of the job, or that once you’ve dispatched the cargo the hard part is over. Although bobtail transportation may seem harmless, there are unique hazards that may be encountered while carrying out this part of the job. Bobtailing is a term used in the trucking industry to refer to driving without a trailer attached to the truck. There are several risks involved with bobtail transportation that could lead to fatal accidents. Let’s take a look at the various risks involved with bobtailing and how you can stay safe on the road.
1. Less control over the brakes
It may seem that it would be much easier to drive a truck without a trailer attached. However, in reality, it's hard to drive and much harder to put bring a bobtailing truck to a halt because there is less traction on its rear wheels. The brake system of a truck is designed to function at its best with a full load. In a case where there is light load in the truck or when bobtailing, the brake system acts differently.
When a trailer is attached to a truck, there is a lot more weight that acts as support. This support helps to hold down the tires of the truck and keep them firmly on the road. In the absence of the trailer, there is more weight over just the two front wheels and almost none at the rear wheels. This means that if the truck driver slams on the brakes suddenly, the truck may tip forward with the two back wheels leaving the ground. If this happens, the truck will lose control making it difficult to stop because only the front wheels are generating friction.
In bobtail transportation, truck drivers should take these precautions to prevent losing control over the brake system:
- Take your time and limit your driving speed
- Put less pressure on the brakes
- Increase your following distance, as this will reduce the likelihood of slamming on the brakes suddenly
- Recheck your vehicle clearance
2. You can’t use engine retarders
An engine retarder is a device used on heavy vehicles to help them slow down or reduce speed when going downhill without wearing down the brake system. Using an engine retarder is very useful in some circumstances, however, they are not safe when bobtailing. This is because, in bobtail transportation, engine retarders can cause the drive axles to decelerate suddenly. As there is no sufficient weight on the rear wheels to provide traction, the truck may slide without control or jackknife, especially if the road is wet, slippery or dirty.
To prevent a mishap while making bobtailing trips, truck drivers should ensure they take the following measures:
- Ensure your engine retarder is switched off when driving bobtail
- Put less pressure on the brakes
- Increase following distance to allow enough time to apply the brakes
- Exercise extra caution when driving on surfaces with poor traction like wet or slippery surfaces
- Avoid applying the brakes suddenly to prevent the wheels from locking, or losing control of the brakes
3. Your truck clearance may be higher
Another factor to consider is the truck clearance. Truck clearance is the minimum distance between the base of a truck’s tire and the axle. When you drop off your load, your truck may be a few inches higher since it’s no longer weighed down by the cargo. A few inches may not seem like much of a big deal, but a higher than normal truck clearance may lead to:
- Collision with a signpost, tunnel or other objects on the road
- Flipping over of the truck if it encounters uneven terrains or potholes
As a truck driver, never be in a haste to get back on the road after unloading cargo. Before and after unloading cargo, be sure to always check your truck clearance to observe if there is any change. Without putting this into consideration, that small ground distance could be the determining factor of a safe trip or a horrible accident.
4. Be aware of the road conditions
Now that you know the reasons why bobtail transportation can be very dangerous, you need to be extra cautious of the road conditions. Bobtailing is especially dangerous on wet, slippery or snowy roads. You need to take extra care when driving in these conditions. Too much pressure on the hand brakes while driving along slippery roads can cause your truck to roll over or skid off the road, leading to an accident. In an emergency, you may have less time to safely maneuver the vehicle or use the brake; however, to prevent a mishap when driving on bad road conditions:
- Be sure to reduce your driving speed
- Increase the distance between you and the other vehicles sharing the road with you
5. Be on the lookout for other bobtailing truckers
The trucking industry is experiencing a shortage of drivers, with the more experienced workforce going into retirement. That means there are many truck drivers on the road that may have little driving experience and little knowledge of the dangers of bobtail transportation.
- Even if you’re not bobtail driving, be sure to look out for other bobtailing truckers on the road and exercise caution around their vehicles.
- Ensure you give enough safe distance between your truck and other bobtailing truckers.
So, now that you are aware of the various risks that come with bobtail transportation, apply the precautions given to minimize the danger for you and other drivers on the road. You should also ask your trucking employer to provide educational material or special training on the necessary precautions for bobtail transportation. This will help keep you and everyone on the road safe.