When a semi truck is driven without a trailer attached, it is commonly referred to as “bobtailing.”
While the trucking industry prefers transporting cargo to bobtailing, truck drivers often have to bobtail on their way to pick up loads or after dropping off their cargo.
Bobtailing is similar to “deadheading” in that the truck driver is not transporting any cargo but the term “deadheading” is used when an empty trailer is still attached to the tractor.
Trucking companies try to minimize the time they spend driving bobtail because those trips do not generate any revenue and also because it is more dangerous to drive bobtail than it is hauling loads. Multiple studies, including reports by the Society of Automobile Engineers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the Michigan Department of Transportation show that bobtail trucks are overrepresented in semi truck accidents, including those that cause fatalities or major property damage.
Bobtailing is comparatively dangerous because semi trucks are designed and built to carry heavy loads. Most of a semi’s braking power is in the rear axles, and without weight bearing down on those axles, braking power is diminished. Additionally, because most of the weight is distributed over the front axle when driving without a trailer, the truck’s ability to steer is greatly diminished, making bobtail trucks harder to handle on tight turns or when the roads are wet.
Because bobtailing is so prevalent and comes with increased risks, most motor carriers will require owner operators driving under their authority to carry their own insurance that covers the owner operator when they are not transporting cargo on the motor carrier’s behalf. This insurance is typically referred to as bobtail insurance.
Bobtail insurance is a secondary auto liability coverage that motor carriers require owner operators to carry for the times they drive a tractor without a trailer attached.
Bobtail liability insurance can cover both personal and business trips.
Driving without a trailer to a job site to pick up a load is an example of bobtailing, and an instance that would be covered under a bobtail policy. Another example is using a truck without a trailer to run personal errands on a day off.
It’s important to note that some insurers and motor carriers will use the term “bobtail insurance” to describe non-trucking liability insurance or non-trucking liability combined with physical damage insurance. Because of this, owner operators should confirm that the policies required by the motor carrier perfectly match the policies the insurance company provides.
Owner operators driving under someone else’s authority who drive their semi truck without a trailer will generally need bobtail liability insurance as required by the lease agreement with their motor carrier.
Some motor carriers, however, will only require non-trucking liability insurance but may still refer to this coverage as “bobtail insurance.” In this case, the motor carrier would cover bobtailing for business purposes under their primary liability insurance policy. For this reason, every owner operator should discuss specifics with their motor carrier or carefully read the lease agreement to avoid confusion.
Unlike primary liability insurance, bobtail liability insurance is not required by state or federal laws, but motor carriers generally require that permanently leased operators and drivers in lease-to-purchase agreements obtain bobtail insurance to limit claims against the primary liability insurance they provide to drivers.
Motor carriers and owner operators driving under their own authority do not need bobtail insurance because their primary liability insurance policies cover their trucks whenever they are in use, whether for business or personal reasons.
While it may seem obvious, box trucks, cement mixers, tow trucks, and many other commercial vehicles will not need bobtail insurance because they cannot be driven without a trailer. Bobtail insurance is specifically tailored to semi truck drivers leased onto a motor carrier.
Bobtail liability insurance covers owner operators when they operate a tractor without a trailer for business or personal reasons.
In the case of an accident or incident, bobtail liability insurance covers injuries to other parties, physical damage to other vehicles, and legal fees or other associated expenses.
Common scenarios where bobtail coverage kicks in include the period between dropping off one load and picking up another, the drive home from a delivery where the trailer was dropped off, and driving without a trailer for personal reasons.
As the name suggests, bobtail liability insurance never covers trucks with a trailer attached. Because it is liability insurance, it won’t cover physical damage to the insured driver’s truck or medical expenses incurred by the driver or any passengers.
Most bobtail policies are offered only to permanently leased operators. Owner operators who are between contracts or are not yet permanently leased to a motor carrier can seek out short term or temporary bobtail insurance.
Bobtail insurance typically costs between $20 and $60 per month–or $240 to $720 per year–and will depend on a variety of factors including the operator’s driving history, policy limits, the deductible amount, and how frequently the operator drives without an attached trailer.
Bobtail liability insurance can be purchased independently but most owner operators will want to package it along with other commercial truck insurance policies, such as physical damage and uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.
While bobtail, physical damage, medical, and under/uninsured insurance costs can add up, owner operators will still save a considerable sum on insurance by leasing onto a carrier because primary liability insurance is often the most expensive.
Owner operators looking for cheap bobtail insurance can lower their premiums by:
Additionally, as with any kind of insurance, comparison shopping is advised for finding the best rates.
Bobtail insurance covers owner operators whenever they drive without a trailer, whether they are driving for business or personal reasons.
Non-trucking liability (NTL), on the other hand, protects owner operators anytime they are driving for personal reasons, whether or not they have a trailer in tow.
The two types of coverage are easy to confuse, and they are sometimes used interchangeably by insurers and trucking companies. For this reason, every owner operator should discuss the specifics with their motor carrier and potential insurers before making a purchase.
A driver under lease needs to obtain coverage for the times they drive when not on the job, for example if they use the truck for shopping or other errands on their day off. Non-trucking liability insurance covers instances like these, whether driving without a trailer, or towing a trailer owned by the driver.
But driving a semi truck without an attached trailer, which a driver might do while they are on the job or in their personal time, is a separate consideration. Bobtail liability insurance covers these times. Driving from the site of a dropoff to the site of a new pick-up–and making the trip without a trailer–is an example of when bobtail coverage kicks in.
The two terms are often used interchangeably because there are many instances when either bobtail insurance or non-trucking liability would cover the operator. For example, driving without a trailer for personal reasons could be covered under either insurance type. Leased owner operators are typically required to get one type of insurance or the other, but not both. The motor carrier will be the entity that makes that determination.
Driving without a trailer is more common for the average owner operator than driving a semi for personal reasons, and so bobtail insurance is often more expensive than non-trucking liability.
Deadheading is driving a semi tractor with an empty trailer attached.
Sometimes confused with bobtailing because both situations involve driving without cargo, deadheading is different because an empty trailer is still attached to the tractor while bobtailing has no trailer attached.
Because the trailer is still attached while deadheading, weight distribution throughout the truck is not compromised to the same extent as it is when a truck is bobtailing, which means deadheading is comparatively less dangerous. The reduced risk means deadhead insurance policies are often less expensive than bobtail insurance coverage.
Owner operators who own their own trailer and drive under a motor carrier will likely be required to carry deadhead insurance, while independent owner operators won't need this insurance because their primary liability coverage will still cover driving with an empty trailer.
Unladen liability insurance provides liability coverage while a truck is operating with an empty attached trailer or while driving without a trailer, also known as bobtailing.
Unladen liability insurance covers semi trucks any time they are not loaded with cargo, whether they are deadheading with an empty trailer or bobtailing without a trailer at all.
Unladen liability insurance, which some motor carriers require of the leased operators working for them, makes no distinction between whether the truck is being used for business or non-business purposes. It’s a policy that covers an unladen truck at all times.
Unladen liability insurance is a newer type of insurance, and because it is more comprehensive some policies can cost more than bobtail or deadhead insurance. Leased operators should thoroughly explore their options with a motor carrier before obtaining an unladen liability policy.
Buyers should talk to an agent or broker about their specific insurance needs because many insurers and trucking companies use terms like bobtail insurance and non-trucking liability insurance interchangeably. Getting clear about specific needs is the first step toward getting the appropriate policy.
When shopping for bobtail liability insurance in particular, a buyer may need to work with niche insurance providers because many popular insurers like Progressive–which offers non-trucking liability coverage–do not offer bobtail insurance.
Here is a look at some of the top insurers offering bobtail and/or non-trucking liability insurance:
Run by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, OOIDA is an international trade association for professional truckers and distinguishes between bobtail liability, non-trucking liability, and unladen insurance. Insurance can be purchased directly from OOIDA and they also offer 3-day contracts for temporary bobtail insurance so new buyers can move their trucks from the dealership to their job site or home while setting up standard insurance coverage.
OOIDA has a moderately high complaint ratio by NAIC, and has not been rated by AM Best.
An important consideration before buying a policy through OOIDA is that liability coverage is provided by OOIDA Risk Retention Group (RRG). A risk retention group is created and owned by the businesses being insured. The businesses, in a sense, share all risk-management. While this can mean lower premiums, fewer rate increases, simpler licensure for multi-state operators and other perks, it also means less regulatory oversight and the potential for one costly claim to affect the entire group.
1st Guard sells directly to truckers, and specializes in commercial truck insurance and fleet insurance. While it does not offer bobtail liability policies, 1st Guard does offer non-trucking liability and physical damage coverage, which will satisfy the requirements of many motor carriers.
1st Guard has no complaints with NAIC for commercial auto insurance policies. However, it is common for smaller insurers, who have a smaller base of customers, to have fewer complaints than larger companies do. AM Best recently affirmed the company’s A+ credit rating.
As its name suggests, Owner Operator Direct specializes in trucking insurance for owner operators, whether they operate under their own authority or someone else’s authority. Owner Operator Direct uses the terms bobtail insurance and non-trucking liability interchangeably, so prospective buyers should discuss specific coverage needs with an agent from Owner Operator Direct and their motor carrier. Its business is underwritten by Lancer Insurance Company.
Northland has specialized in trucking for decades, and insures local drivers and long-haul truckers alike. The insurer uses the terms bobtail insurance and non-trucking liability interchangeably, so prospective buyers should discuss specific coverage needs with an agent or their motor carrier. Insurance through Northland will need to be acquired through an independent insurance agent.
NITIC uses the terms bobtail insurance and non-trucking liability interchangeably, so buyers should discuss their specific coverage needs with an agent and their motor carrier before obtaining a policy. The insurer also offers short-term and temporary bobtail insurance for tractors, box trucks, and pickups on a day-to-day basis so that new vehicle buyers can move their trucks before their long-term coverage begins. Potential buyers can purchase insurance directly from the provider.
Liability insurance with NITIC is offered via a Risk Retention Group, which is created and owned by the businesses being insured. While the shared-risk situation in RRGs can mean lower premiums, fewer rate increases, simpler licensure for multi-state operators and other perks, it can also mean less regulatory oversight and the potential for one costly claim to affect the entire group.
While Progressive is the largest commercial auto insurance company by premiums written, it does not offer bobtail liability policies. However, Progressive does offer non-trucking liability, unladen, and physical damage coverage, which will satisfy the requirements of many motor carriers. Progressive has a great online tool for obtaining quotes and their insurance can be purchased online or through an agent.
The insurer has won awards for service from JD Power Digital Experience, and consistently ranks well on the Keynova Scorecards that evaluates insurers and financial service providers on the digital experience they offer. While Progressive does get consumer complaints with NAIC, the number of complaints is not excessive. Progressive is highly rated by Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and AM Best, and receives a positive outlook by Fitch.