Truck platooning is a new method that syncs multiple semi-trucks together into one convoy with an automated driving system. Basically, it is two or more commercial trucks following one another closely in a line. This allows the front-most truck to essentially control the convoy and save on fuel costs by avoiding air drag. Theoretically, the method should be safe and has a reaction time five times faster than an average human driver.
However, the commercial trucking industry in the U.S. does not have the best history when it comes to safety standards and many people are arguing against platooning for fear of raising truck collisions.
How Does Truck Platooning Work?
Truck platooning works by setting up and connecting two or more trucks so that they are able to travel very closely together in a straight line. This creates an air flow that boosts the fuel efficiency of all trucks in the platoon. Giving them the ability to travel further distances while needing less fuel and expenses. This method greatly increases profits for trucking companies.
The space that is left between any two trucks hovers between 20 and 50 feet. In order for platooning to work safely, wireless safety braking systems must be installed on all trucks. These systems activate the brakes in the follower trucks as soon as the leader truck applies any braking.
The Benefits of Platooning
The most beneficial aspects of platooning for large trucks are fuel savings and better safety measurements. The North American Council for Freight Efficiency ran a study and found that with at least two trucks platooning, the fuel savings were 4% for the leading truck and as much as 10% for the following truck.
Of course, there are many variables that could affect those numbers including congestion on the road, weather conditions, other drivers, and road construction. However, counting all the savings in a year, platooning fleets could save about $2000 per truck every year.
On the other hand, truck platooning would greatly increase safety measures as there won’t be a need for human input in long distance straight-line driving. Additionally, all platooning trucks need to follow a high standard of safety and have the necessary systems and equipment for adaptive cruise control and automatic braking.
Safety Concerns Surrounding Platooning
As with any new technological advance, some safety concerns were immediately raised. While platooning is known to make trucks more aerodynamic and fuel-efficient, it also poses a higher risk of serious accidents. The technology behind platooning is not perfect, and is prone to fail or malfunction at some point. This could have huge ramifications and should be studied very carefully before allowing them on our roads.
The issue is, because semi-trucks are massive machines that could weigh between 10,000 and 25,000 pounds when carrying zero load, the risk of massive injuries and damages following any accident are multiplied. Charles Reed, a truck accident attorney in New Haven argues that, “The immense forces exerted on the victims of a commercial truck accident often cause catastrophic injuries.” That’s precisely why extensive studies and tests must be administered before the technology is cleared for use around the public.
Additionally, many drivers of small passenger vehicles would find it extremely difficult to navigate around a long line of semi-trucks driving close to each other. If a driver would like to exit the freeway, they would have to figure out how to get around a platoon driving on the right lane. Someone unfamiliar with platooning could attempt to squeeze between two of the trucks. This poses a serious risk of fatal override accidents.
To sum up, big rig truck platooning is a new method that has the potential to make our roads safer and more efficient. But that will not be an easy mission given the circumstances. All safety aspects need to be thoroughly checked and approved before we can seriously rely on this new method.