Technology Reduces Deadhead Miles, Improving Trucking Efficiency

December 28, 2020 by, @trucksdotcom

Editor’s note: Written by Ashley Lewis, Vice President of Product Management at NEXT Trucking. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.

It’s a well-known fact in the transportation and logistics industries that long-haul trucking is a leading contributor to carbon emissions. The transportation industry accounts for 28% of all greenhouse gas emissions, due in large part to the high mileage and heavy loads required to maintain the integrity of the supply chain.

Equally undeniable, however, is the importance of trucking to shipping and logistics industries — and to the economy as a whole. Trucks in the U.S. move over 10.8 billion tons of freight annually, accounting for 70 percent of all goods transported domestically. While the EPA has taken actions to reduce the impact of greenhouse gas pollution stemming from the transportation sector, such as setting greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions standards for trucks and increasing the use of renewable fuels, these regulations alone are not enough.

To maintain the backbone of the freight economy and ensure the transport of goods can be executed efficiently  — while also chipping away at the damaging environmental effects of fossil fuel emissions  — the trucking industry is looking to technology. Technology can support sustainability for trucking companies, help to reduce environmental impact and ultimately improve efficiency for a more responsible supply chain.

Reducing Empty Miles and Dead-Head

A pervasive pain-point in the trucking industry is the detrimental impact of “empty miles,” both for drivers and carriers. In fact, some reports have shown that up to 40 percent of trucks on the road today are driving empty miles. When a truck is traveling without a loaded trailer or shipping container the resulting fuel emissions produced during that trip are effectively wasted. Despite the inefficiency of the process, it’s often a necessary component of the container cycle. Once a full container has been transported from the steamship to its warehouse destination to be emptied, that container oftentimes must be returned directly to the port, resulting in the creation of those empty miles.

Now, there are technology solutions entering the market to disrupt that efficiency bottleneck. Fleet owners can implement digital marketplaces or app-based mobile solutions to match empty containers at the warehouse with a company in need of a container for their exports. As a result, the container can be delivered to a nearby warehouse, loaded with goods awaiting export, and returned to the port with a full load. By using technology to facilitate these transactions or “street turns,” fleet operators can support improved efficiency and reduce the needless carbon emissions produced by empty miles on the road.

Ashley Lewis of Next Trucking.

Ashley Lewis of Next Trucking.

Software solutions exist today to break through a myriad of sustainability barriers, from reducing empty miles and leveraging capacity data, to tracking individual containers and even optimizing drivers’ day-to-day schedule planning. Put simply, a human dispatcher might not be able to optimize these processes with the same speed, accuracy and insight that a computer algorithm can.

Take, for example, load-matching software solutions that assist with drivers’ scheduling needs. If a trucking company has insight into where a driver is starting their morning, they can plan out that driver’s day schedule to reduce dead-head before their shift even begins. If a driver’s residence is located one hour from the port where their next container is located, that driver will need to dead-head into that port. A software solution or digital freight marketplace can interrupt that cycle and match that driver with a nearby export, allowing the driver to reduce deadhead, intercept that export load, and deliver it to the port destination in time to collect their next container. The result is fewer unnecessary fuel emissions released into the atmosphere and fewer wasted hours on the road — a valuable advantage for drivers, who receive their best compensation rates when they’re actively delivering cargo.

Using Data to Slash Idle Time at the Port

Another sustainability roadblock many logistics companies face is port congestion. At peak hours and seasons, when traffic from the port can become backed up to the nearest freeway, drivers are left to idle for hours at a time as they creep toward their next scheduled container pickup. The resulting wait times cause excess fuel emissions, creating additional pollution and offering no value to the carrier during that lost time.

In places like the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, reviewing port congestion data to circumvent the busiest areas of the port is imperative. Some solutions allow for real-time reporting of wait times at specific terminals, opening the door for companies to partner with those terminals and assign their trucks to a dedicated lane or gate. By scheduling drivers to enter less congested areas, these types of data solutions offer a promising alternative to traditional portside operations that can further reduce idle emissions and improve the sustainability of the supply chain over time.

By leveraging data to reduce carbon emissions for the millions of trucks already on the road today, technology can facilitate a more sustainable and efficient supply chain. Using digital solutions to reduce idle times, dead-head and empty miles offers the multi-level benefit of improving efficiency for carriers, supporting green initiatives for shippers, opening up better routes for drivers, and fostering environmental responsibility for everyone.

Editor’s note: Ashley Lewis leads the product management team at NEXT Trucking, a logistics platform and digital freight marketplace. Next combines a freight marketplace with company drivers and strategic partnerships to provide a powerful suite of services for Drayage, OTR, and transloading. welcomes divergent thoughts and opinions on transport technology and trucking industry issues. Use the comments section to cite yours. Qualified opinion leaders are welcome to offer suggestions for opinion columns.

Jerry Hirsch December 14, 2020
The economics of operating heavy-duty electric trucks remains behind their diesel-fueled counterparts but is improving, according to Goldman Sachs.

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