When a semi-truck drives without a trailer, it’s said to be bobtailing. Tractor-trailer rigs often do this after dropping off a trailer or when going somewhere to pick one up. Sometimes truck drivers will use their tractors for personal transportation when they aren’t on the job.
Although this practice seems harmless enough, tractors by themselves are very poor at hard braking and very difficult to control on slippery roads. There’s nothing illegal about the practice, and trucking wouldn’t be possible without bobtailing.
Why a Bobtailing Truck Brakes and Handles So Poorly
A tractor without a trailer has most of its weight on its front wheels and very little on its rear wheels. This makes it unstable in the sense that you can’t slam on the brakes or do aggressive swerves — the sort of maneuvers you would make in an emergency situation. In fact, hard maneuvers or hard braking on slippery roads can make a tractor spin out of control and cause a truck accident.
Oddly enough, a tractor hitched to its trailer is safer on the road than one that is bobtailing. That’s because the trailer’s weight sits on the rear wheels of the tractor, which gives them lots of traction for braking.
That’s why you should give a bobtailing truck even more room than you would a tractor pulling a trailer. This is especially important on wet roads or when you are driving in an area with snow. Bobtailing is very dangerous on snowy or icy roads.
The trucking industry currently has a driver shortage because much of the experienced workforce are retiring. This means the bobtailing tractors you see on the road are probably driven by relatively inexperienced drivers. Be especially careful around them when driving.
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