3 Ways Logistics Professionals Minimize Deadhead Miles

Jan 15, 2024

Approximately 35% of all truck miles driven are reportedly empty — that’s roughly 61 billion purposeless, profit-less miles spent accelerating a vehicle’s wear and tear, wasting fuel and producing unnecessary emissions (not to mention the danger empty trailers can pose to civilian drivers).

These empty trips are referred to as deadheading or deadhead miles, and are the natural enemy of logistical efficiency for large fleets and individual owner-operators alike. Here’s a closer look at three tools and tactics logistics experts commonly employ to keep deadheading to a minimum.

1. Anticipate Demand with Route Optimization Software

There’s no “set-it-and-forget-it” solution to cost-efficient shipping. Carriers regularly analyze market trends to determine which parts of the country are most likely to reward drivers with additional loads for their return trip, booking deliveries to these areas in hopes that elevated demand for trucks will lessen the risk of deadheading.

But even when carefully selecting loads by region, dozens of variables can threaten a route’s profitability. Inclement weather, mechanical breakdowns, irregular traffic patterns, road closures and other costly disruptions can sideline trucks for days at a time. If these obstacles aren’t properly anticipated, carriers can actually lose money delivering a once-promising load to a market that’s since flipped on its head — and that’s if the load isn’t rejected for missing its delivery window.

Route optimization software aims to ease this complexity. Before modern route optimization software, dispatchers planned routes by hand with maps, whiteboards and spreadsheets based entirely on their own insights and expertise. Today’s route-planning is far less labor-intensive, relying instead on advanced algorithms and machine learning to form routes based on hundreds of real-time variables, delivery requirements and capacity projections.

Optimization software’s ability to draw upon millions of data points to anticipate potential hazards along a given route has proven invaluable to minimizing deadhead mileage.

2. Reduce Cost-Per-Mile by Consolidating Loads

While deadheading usually refers to miles spent moving an empty trailer, it can also describe any vehicle hauling partial loads for negative profit margins. Strategic load consolidation reduces a carrier’s operational cost per mile (expenses divided by miles driven) by combining multiple loads bound in similar directions onto one vehicle.

It’s worth noting that load consolidation technically refers only to merging shipments from a single sender into one load for more efficient transport, though it is sometimes (wrongly) used interchangeably with load “groupage,” which refers to combining small shipments from several different shippers.

Supply chain professionals tasked with improving fleet utilization often combine shipments as a means to avoid paying full price for half-empty trailers, reduce their company’s total number of trucks on the road and save significantly on fuel expenses.

3. Enhance Communication and Agility with API & EDI

Without real-time insight into freight movements, companies can find themselves repeatedly exhausting time and resources due to simple human error. Comprehensive freight visibility — usually through a mix of cloud-based API systems (built specifically for instantaneous data-sharing) and EDI carrier compliance software — reduces miscommunication, keeping all parties in the loop when it comes time to resolve snags in the supply chain quickly.

API and EDI have likewise become essential for route optimization in cases of LTL freight. LTL’s somewhat infamous reputation for difficult-to-predict delivery times can be eased through regular customer portal or dashboard updates, made possible by the real-time data these systems provide (you can check out an example of our team’s shipment tracking capabilities here).

Improved communication and precise location tracking also allow carriers to quickly identify and accept nearby loads, keeping their vehicles full and on the move.

Optimize Your Fleet Utilization with First Call

Need help reducing empty deadhead miles in your supply chain? A reliable 3PL partner can grant businesses of any size access to industry-leading warehouse and transportation management systems, real-time tracking updates and route optimization software capable of analyzing your current processes to identify weak points due for improvement.

First Call partners with shippers and carriers nationwide to create reliable logistics solutions. Contact First Call today for more on minimizing deadhead miles, and allow us to help your supply chain GO!

The 3PL You’ve Been Looking For

Building and managing cost-efficient supply chains is a full-time job. First Call’s rare combination of in-house assets, expert problem-solving and track record of stellar customer service makes us the 3PL of choice for carrier partners looking to make the most of their miles.

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