Tailgating Trucks? They Might Be Platooning
August 20, 2018 / Truck Accidents
The next time you see one tractor-trailer closely tailgating another, the situation could be normal—the new normal, that is. Something called “platooning” is becoming legal in a number of states as technology advances, making this sort of behavior not only legally acceptable, but also safe.
What is Platooning?
Wireless electronic communications combined with other technology allow two semis to follow each other at close distances—as close as 30 feet in some cases. The most critical piece of the system is the communication portion that tells the second truck to brake as soon as the first truck does, often within ten milliseconds, and with no driver intervention. In other words, the two trucks brake more or less simultaneously.
But platooning does not involve self-driving trucks. Both trucks have drivers who are fully engaged in their vehicle’s operation. The driver in the rear truck cannot simply sit there and get bored. And, if you’re wondering about how the rear truck’s driver sees the road ahead, a video link shows them what the front truck’s driver is seeing. The video link has been characterized as being similar to “another mirror.”
Drivers can also talk with each other through a button on the floor they operate with their left foot.
Why Is Platooning Growing Popular?
In a word: costs. Two trucks platooning can save up to 10 percent on fuel costs for the rear truck and five percent for the front truck because one truck “slipstreams” behind another. The front truck also saves fuel because the airstream behind them becomes less turbulent. These savings add up to millions of dollars for large trucking companies. Burning less diesel fuel also means reducing exhaust emissions and air pollution.
It’s claimed that platooning will make roadways safer for everyone, even safer than the new trucks that employ collision management systems and automatic braking technology.
How Can This Be Safe?
Safety always matters. In 2016, 4,317 people died in collisions with large trucks. Nearly three-fourths of the fatalities (72 percent) were people in passenger vehicles. Another 11 percent of persons killed were bicyclists, pedestrians, police officers standing near the highway, and those working on the road. While large trucks comprise only four percent of the vehicles on our roadways, they are involved in 11 percent of fatal crashes.
How can two trucks following so closely be safer? Briefly, our technology has become so advanced that the two trucks operate in tandem, almost as if they are one entity. Two drivers traveling together in this manner can also keep each other alert and at full attention.
States have laws that define how closely one semi can follow another, and for good reason. An accident at highway speeds between two tractor-trailers has the potential to harm many others sharing the road. In Indiana, the “keep back” distance is 300 feet, and in Kentucky, it’s 250 feet.
But platooning is changing the game. Indiana’s Gov. Holcomb recently signed a law that would exempt platooning from the 300-foot following distance. Kentucky’s governor has done something similar. So you may see platooning trucks near you soon.
Safety advocates are skeptical, believing that not enough questions have been answered. The executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, Jonathan Adkins, recently expressed a number of concerns: “The chief safety concern for passenger vehicles is how other drivers will react to platoons. How fast should platoons be permitted to travel? Will long platoons block exit lanes that were not designed for such circumstances? Can we limit platoons to only the right lane, rather than blocking multiple lanes of traffic? How can we prevent cars from trying to dangerously ‘cut in’ between platooning trucks?”
However, Adkins also noted, “The good news is that the necessary research is being conducted.”
When others breach their duty, we keep ours.
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