What is Bobtailing and Why is it Dangerous?

Oversized commercial trucks are hard to control. Their high centers of gravity, weight, and size mean they need extra turning room, and more braking distance, and are easier to lose control of. Most people are familiar with other dangers associated with large trucks, such as jackknifing. However, a truck cab driving down the road with no trailer attached, a practice known as bobtailing, can pose just as much of a hazard. If you were injured in an accident involving a bobtailed commercial truck, call the experienced Virginia Beach truck accident lawyers at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp today to schedule a free case review. 

What is a Bobtail Truck?

A bobtail truck is a tractor-trailer without the trailer attached. Bobtailing occurs most often when truck operators have dropped off their cargo and are headed to pick up another load. Truck drivers might also bobtail after they drop off their trailer and then drive the cab home before returning to work the next day. Similar to bobtailing is deadheading, which is when the truck’s cab is attached to an empty trailer. 

What Makes Bobtailing So Risky?

Although tractor-trailers are already challenging to control, bobtailing makes them more so. A truck’s cab is designed to pull a trailer and handles very differently without one. 

There are multiple factors that make bobtailing hazardous, including: 

  • Decreased braking power: The braking system of a tractor-trailer is located on the back wheels, which are also load-bearing. Without extra weight on a truck’s rear axle, its braking power is significantly decreased. When a truck is bobtailed, the majority of its weight rests on its front axle, which controls steering, not stopping. 
  • Limited control: With this added weight on the front axle, control and steering also become harder and the undesirable weight distribution can cause the cab to slide should a sudden turn be necessary. 
  • Decreased friction: The reduced weight of a bobtail truck also decreases the amount of friction between its wheels and the road. This makes bobtailed trucks more prone to skidding or rolling over during sharp turns, especially during inclement weather like ice, snow, rain, and sleet.  
  • Reduced suspension function: The suspension system of a tractor-trailer is designed to absorb shock and support the truck’s weight. In order to function properly, however, it requires the weight of a loaded trailer. 
  • Higher potential for speed: Finally, the reduced weight of a bobtail truck makes it easier for the vehicle to gain speed. As a tractor-trailer’s speed increases, the likelihood and severity of an accident also increase. Additionally, as the truck’s speed increases, it becomes proportionately difficult to control and steer.  

To safely operate a bobtail truck, truck drivers must be extra cautious, extra vigilant, and without the benefit of the weight of a trailer, adapt their driving to current road conditions. Unfortunately, since bobtail trucks are driven only when necessary, most truck drivers are completely unfamiliar with the differences in handling. 

Who is Liable for a Bobtail Truck Accident?

If a bobtail truck caused your accident and injuries, there could be more than one party liable for your damages, such as:  

  • Truck operator: If negligence on the part of the truck operator caused your accident, they could be held liable for your damages. 
  • Freight company: Freight companies have a duty to make sure their truck drivers have the necessary training, experience, and licensure to safely operate a bobtail cab. They are also required to provide adequate supervision of their drivers and ensure that all FMCSA trucking regulations are being followed. 
  • Parts manufacturer: If a defective truck part caused or contributed to your bobtail truck accident, the manufacturer could be held responsible. 
  • Maintenance or repair company: The company that last repaired or performed maintenance on the tractor-trailer could be liable if shoddy repairs or maintenance caused the collision. 

After a bobtail truck accident, you may have to deal with more than one insurance company in your pursuit of compensation, including your insurance company, the truck driver’s insurance company, the freight company’s carrier, as well as the insurers of any liable third parties. In fact, the dangers of bobtailing are so distinctive, that it has its own specific coverage. Bobtail liability insurance covers truck operators or owners who are in between loads or for any other reason are driving a cab with no trailer. Bobtail insurance is critical because basic motor carrier policies typically only cover accidents that happen while the operator is on the clock and carrying cargo. 

Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

The experienced Virginia Beach truck accident lawyers at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp have been achieving successful outcomes in serious commercial truck accident cases since 1985. One example is the $2.4 million wrongful death settlement we secured for the surviving family members of a man who was killed when his car was struck by a careless truck driver. If you were injured in an accident involving a commercial truck, schedule a free case review with one of our experienced lawyers by calling (833) 997-1774 or filling out the contact form on our website. Our offices are located in Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Hampton.