Platooning trucks digitally-connected, driving in formation boosts fuel economy, limits traffic congestion and improves highway safety, yet lack of uniformity of state traffic laws is holding back its widespread use.
What is Truck Platooning?
Platooning is a driving strategy that features trucks traveling in a line, connected using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology. The truck in front controls the braking, acceleration, and distance of following trucks, with the distance between trucks decreased to reduce wind resistance between them. This reduces drag on the truck in front and those in back, causing more fuel efficiency for all vehicles. Bicycle racers and auto race car drivers use this strategy, called Drafting or Slipstreaming, to increase speed.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in trials projects fuel/cost savings of 2.2 percent to 5.3 percent for trucks leading a platoon pack and 2.8 percent to 9.7 percent for trailing trucks. Michael Lammert, senior fleet test and evaluation engineer for NREL calculated a 4.2 percent reduction in total truck energy use and carbon emissions if adopted widespread.
Technology Advances Anticipating Nationwide Regulatory Uniformity
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) classifies six different levels of vehicle autonomy, based on the amount of necessary driver intervention. Level 0 uses no automation while Level 5, considered “high automation,” requires no human intervention with the vehicle fully self-driving. Truck platooning uses Level 1, requiring a driver to be ready to take control at any time.
Automated trucking innovator Peloton Technology in Mountain View, California has partnered with FEV North American Inc. to produce radar-based detection systems connected to its cloud-based operations center. Using GPS and radio-frequency identification technology, the program decides when weather, traffic, topography and other environmental factors are inappropriate for platooning, with the driver still in the equation as a highly skilled manager rather than laborer. With a video feed in the rear truck showing its driver what the lead driver is seeing, when another vehicle cuts into the platoon, the technology gives full manual control back to the rear driver.
Lack of Traffic Law Uniformity Delays Implementation
Already popular in Europe, platooning needs uniform state traffic laws in the U.S. for commercial deployment. Presently, state traffic laws regulating time and distance between vehicles vary or, in some states, do not exist. Some states use a “Reasonable and Prudent” standard, which requires a driver to keep enough space ahead, usually several hundred feet, to stop in an emergency. Other states use a “Sufficient Space” measure, whereby drivers, including those behind the wheel in heavy trucks and in convoys of vehicles, give other road users enough room to safely enter and exit gaps between vehicles. Platooning is banned in other states.
With a goal to have automated driving technologies fully implemented around 2020 to 2021, Utah, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas have all approved platooning trials or exempted platoons from follow-too-close regulations. Hopefully, other states will follow.
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