What Is Bobtailing & How Can It Cause Accidents?

Bobtailing Truck

While you may have heard the line bells on bobtails ring from James Pierpont’s Christmas classic “Jingle Bells,” a bobtail in the trucking world is something different entirely. A bobtail is a semi-truck that isn’t attached to a trailer and doesn’t carry cargo. Unfortunately, bobtailing is the cause of many annual roadway accidents nationwide. Thankfully, the risks associated with bobtailing can be reduced significantly with proper education and prevention measures.

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident involving a bobtail truck, contact Steinger, Greene & Feiner today. Our truck accident lawyers will go up against even the most powerful trucking companies to secure the compensation you deserve.

What Is Bobtailing?

A bobtail truck is a semi-truck with no trailer attached, meaning it isn’t carrying freight. Therefore, bobtailing is the act of driving a semi-truck cab without an attached trailer. Bobtailing can be confused with deadheading, which occurs when a semi-truck travels with a trailer attached, but the trailer contains no freight.

These are the three types of trucks that can bobtail:

  1. Semi-Truck or Running Bobtail Truck: While the average semi-truck has a cab and a trailer, a  running bobtail truck is a small semi-truck that doesn’t have a trailer.
  2. Small Bobtail Truck: A small bobtail truck is a semi-truck without a trailer attached whose axles are connected to the same framework. These trucks carry materials such as eggs and bakery products.
  3. Straight Propane Truck: A straight propane truck is a small semi-truck that contains a round tank on its rear bed that can hold up to 5,000 gallons of propane. These trucks transport fuel to gas stations and auto dealers.

The Mechanics of Bobtailing

Without a trailer attached to help distribute the weight, the cab’s weight is placed entirely on the front wheels. While the rear wheels of a semi-truck—which are located underneath the trailer—are designed for braking, the front wheels are designed for steering. Due to their limited braking power, bobtail trucks take longer to come to a stop.

Bobtail truck drivers, like any semi-truck drivers, often slam on the brakes when traffic comes to a sudden stop or another driver cuts them off to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, this hard braking is often what causes accidents to occur due to limited steer control and braking power.

Bobtailing & Safety Concerns

Why Bobtailing Is Dangerous

Bobtailing is an uncommon practice because it poses serious risks to truck drivers and other drivers on the road. Here are the three main reasons why bobtailing is so dangerous.

  1. The front wheels of a semi-truck carry all of the cab’s weight and have primary control over the truck’s movements. This configuration works well when the semi-truck carries freight because the weight placed on the trailer counterbalances the weight placed on the front wheels. In the case of a bobtail truck, however, too much weight is placed on the front wheels. This imbalance makes steering more difficult, which can cause a truck driver to lose control and collide with another vehicle.
  2. The lack of weight on the cab’s rear wheels reduces friction, making skidding and overturning more likely to occur when the truck turns sharply. This becomes especially hazardous when it’s raining, icing, or snowing since bobtail trucks require a greater following distance when braking. Loaded semi-trucks need 20% to 40% more distance to stop than other vehicles. The required stopping distance is even greater when wet and slippery roads are involved.
  3. With less weight to carry, bobtail trucks travel much faster than freighted semi-trucks, increasing the risk of accidents due to hazards such as speeding and tailgating.

Risks Associated With Bobtailing

Tractor-trailers (the average semi-truck with a cab and a trailer) were involved in 74% of deaths caused by large truck accidents in 2021 while single-unit trucks (bobtail trucks) were involved in 27%. Some accidents involved both vehicle types. Bobtail trucks are more likely to cause accidents than loaded semi-trucks because they have:

  • Limited control over their movements
  • Reduced braking power
  • A higher risk of skidding and overturning due to limited friction between the tires and the pavement

The good news is that bobtailing doesn’t occur frequently because it reduces productivity and increases costs for trucking companies. A semi-truck traveling somewhere without a freight to drop off drains valuable resources that could be used elsewhere. Plus, the dangers associated with bobtailing pose a substantial risk for trucking companies.

Regulations Surrounding Bobtailing

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a branch of the Department of Transportation, sets maximum driving limits for truck drivers to prevent drowsy driving and other risky driving behaviors. Drowsy driving is dangerous because it reduces a truck driver’s focus and reaction time, which increases the risk of an accident. Current regulations mandate that truck drivers:

  • Drive no more than 11 consecutive hours within 10 hours
  • Drive no more than 14 consecutive hours while on duty after 10 consecutive hours of being off duty
  • Take a minimum 30-minute break after eight cumulative hours of driving with no break
  • Drive no more than 60 hours over seven consecutive days or 70 hours over eight consecutive days

Individual truck drivers and the trucking companies they work for can face hefty fines and even jail time for violating any of the regulations described above, especially if someone gets injured as a result. They can be held financially liable for any injuries or property damage that occur due to a violated hours-of-service regulation. These strict legal and financial penalties incentivize truck drivers and trucking companies to comply with the FMCSA’s standards.

The Role of Trucking Companies & Drivers in Preventing Bobtailing Accidents

Trucking companies and the truck drivers they employ owe a duty of care to other drivers on the road. When this duty of care is breached, it can cost not only money but people’s lives. That’s why trucking companies are responsible for maintaining their vehicles, and truck drivers are responsible for practicing safe driving to reduce the risk of accidents.

Preventative Measures & Best Practices

Like any other type of accident, bobtailing accidents are preventable. Here are some practical strategies both truck drivers and other drivers on the road can practice to make bobtailing accidents less likely to occur.

Truck Drivers

  • Don’t hard brake
  • Don’t swerve
  • Don’t drive drowsy
  • Don’t exceed the maximum driving limit set by the FMCSA
  • Be aware of road and weather conditions
  • Maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of you

Other Drivers

  • Drive defensively
  • Maintain a safe distance from bobtail trucks
  • Don’t cut off a bobtail truck when merging onto the highway or changing lanes

How Awareness Can Prevent Bobtailing Accidents

Knowing the risks of bobtailing can help prevent its impact because the parties involved know how to prepare for and respond to hazardous conditions they might encounter on the road. Whether you drive a semi-truck or a standard motor vehicle, do your part to reduce the risk of accidents.

Choose Steinger, Greene & Feiner as Your Truck Accident Lawyer

Accidents involving bobtail trucks can cause severe injuries and substantial property damage. If you’re the victim of a bobtailing accident, you’re entitled to financial compensation. Steinger, Greene & Feiner is the law firm you can trust to get the results you want. Don’t let the trucking company or your insurance provider take advantage of you. Contact our team today to claim your free case evaluation. This is the first step in your journey toward justice. We’re ready to discuss your case with you.

About the Author

Michael Steinger
Michael Steinger

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MICHAEL S. STEINGER, founding partner of Steinger, Greene & Feiner, believes in representing real people, not big businesses. Since the firm’s creation in 1997, Steinger, Greene & Feiner has never represented an insurance company or large corporation, and he vows to keep this promise. Over the course of his career, Michael has handled thousands of Florida accident cases, recovering millions of dollars for his clients and earning him membership into the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Staying up-to-date on the ever-evolving laws protecting injury victims and their families, Michael is an active member of the American Bar Association, the Palm Beach, and St. Lucie Bar Associations, and sits on the Auto Insurance Committee of the Florida Justice Association.