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Liability Coverage for the Owner Operator

For independent contractors, the world of Auto Liability can be a confusing place with lots of misnomers and interchangeable terms. While an independent contractor is operating under the direction of the motor carrier, their Auto Liability exposure is covered under the motor carrier’s primary Auto Liability policy. For times when the tractor is being operated without direction from any motor carrier, the independent contractor should have some form of liability coverage.

Very often, the term bobtailing is used in general terms to refer to an independent contractor when they are not hauling under contract for a motor carrier. Specifically, to bobtail means when you operate a tractor without a trailer attached. There is an insurance coverage form that can be purchased for bobtail exposure. This policy would respond regardless of the nature of the operation of the independent contractor as long as they were not pulling a trailer. Deadheading, however, is when a tractor is pulling an empty trailer. An unladen liability policy would cover losses when the tractor is not transporting cargo.

The most common form of liability coverage for the independent contractor is Non-Trucking Auto Liability. The main purpose of the Non-Trucking Auto Liability policy is to respond when the independent contractor is not operating under the discretion of the motor carrier. Due to the broad nature of policy language defining “business operations” and the fact that oftentimes the independent contractor is acting under the terms of their lease or the business operations of the motor carrier; Non-Trucking Auto Liability policies are infamous for not paying out.

In terms of liability coverage for the owner-operator, the unladen liability and bobtail policies provide broader coverage because the need to determine what the unit was being used for is not required to trigger coverage. For this reason, these policies are harder to get and more expensive than the commonplace Non-Trucking Auto Liability policy.

The best case scenario when placing Non-Trucking Auto Liability coverage is to place the coverage with the same insurance company as the motor carrier. This method will eliminate any coverage gaps that can occur between carriers' policy language. If that is not an option, it is best to consult your trucking insurance professional for their advice on the next best option.


  • “Bobtail Trucking Coverage”  National Underwriter Company FC&S Bulletin 09/04/2010

  • “Bobtail or Deadheading Liability Coverage”  Rough Notes 09/01/14

  • Transport Topics:  Opinion:  Liability Coverage: Bobtail policies 09/02/2013


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