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September 9, 2021 | Insights

Standard Tractors in Yard Operations: Know Your Risks

September 9, 2021 | Insights

Standard tractor-trailers are vital equipment to every supply chain in North America (and the world)—they get things where they need to go, often linking intermodal transport with the goods’ final destination. While standard tractors do a great job of moving product over the road, there’s one place where they don’t perform very well: the distribution center yard. 

Many growing businesses that have yard operations, however, do use standard tractors to move trailers around the yard. If you’re one of those businesses, you could be putting your team and your bottom line at unnecessary risk. In this article, we’ll explain why using standard tractors in the yard is risky—and offer alternatives to help protect your business.

Key Risk: Driver Injuries

Standard tractors are designed for the long haul. They are great for making drivers comfortable when they have to spend a lot of time in the cab driving long distances. The yard, however, has different demands. 

Drivers operating standard tractors in yard operations will find themselves at a greater risk of injury than those who operate yard trucks (also known as shunt trucks, yard dogs, spotter trucks, hostlers, etc.). The frequent need to connect and disconnect from trailers will require a driver of a standard tractor to continuously jump in and out of the cab, putting them at risk for the following injuries:

  • Elbow, wrist, and shoulder injuries from having to frequently crank landing gear
  • “Jumper’s knee” from the constant need to climb up and down from the cab to the ground and back again to crank landing gear, disconnect lines, and engage/disengage the fifth wheel (also known as the kingpin)
  • Falls while climbing in and out of the cab

Key Risk: Operational Inefficiencies

The longer wheelbase of standard tractors makes for a smoother and more stable ride at high speeds and provides more storage space between the axles—which are great benefits for trips over long distances. But the physical characteristics of standard tractors prove problematic in the yard. Here’s how:

  • It takes a little over six minutes for a standard tractor to drop off one trailer, while a shunt truck can complete about three drop-offs in the same amount of time. 
  • Standard tractors are harder to maneuver because of their long wheelbase and wide turning radius, making them more prone to collisions in tighter spots.
  • They have larger blind spots than yard trucks, which also increases the risk of incidents.

Shunt Trucks, Yard Trucks, Terminal Tractors, Yard Dogs, Yard…Goats?

Logistics professionals have many nicknames for what we at NSSL refer to as “shunt trucks”—the tractors designed specifically for executing trailer moves in the yard. These vehicles mitigate many of the risks associated with using standard tractors in the yard. Here’s how they help.

  • Shunt trucks feature a hydraulic lifting fifth wheel, allowing the operator to lower the trailer and disengage the kingpin without exiting the cab. 
  • With no need to crank landing gear, drivers are at less risk of injury.
  • Drivers can spend more of their time in the cab and on the platform, reducing the risk of developing jumper’s knee injuries that they could sustain climbing up and down from a standard tractor.
  • Shunt trucks have a shorter wheelbase, tighter turning radius, and nearly 360-degree visibility for maximum maneuverability and safety.
  • The better maneuverability allows shunt trucks to drop off trailers about three times as fast as a standard tractor. 

No Need to Invest in Your Own Fleet

Partnering with a yard management company like NSSL means that you can eliminate the risks of using standard tractors in your yard while enjoying benefits far beyond what we’ve covered in this article. We don’t just bring our equipment when we take over your yard operation—we also bring boots-on-the-ground leadership; the industry’s only software designed specifically for yard professionals, by yard professionals; and total ownership of the ROI of your yard operation. If you’re interested in leveling up the efficiency and productivity of your yard, then we can help. Connect with an NSSL expert today to get started!

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