Platooning: The Latest Development with Large Trucks

Technology can change our lives quickly these days, sometimes in surprising ways. If you’ll be driving west or southwest of Maryland soon, you might notice one tractor-trailer “tailgating” another closely enough to be alarming in states like Indiana, Tennessee, or Georgia. This new wrinkle in the commercial trucking industry is called “platooning.”

Platooning uses wireless communication technology to control the brakes of the rear truck, so that when the front truck stops, the rear one does, too, more or less instantaneously. The time lag is often less than ten milliseconds. For this reason, one truck can follow another at frighteningly-small distances (as little as 30 feet) while traveling at highway speeds. For perspective, the average large SUV is 17 feet long.

Are These Trucks Self-Driving?

Platooning does not use self-driving trucks. Both vehicles rely on drivers to remain in full control and completely involved in the driving process. Trucks in a platoon, however, can be equipped with new driving technologies such as automatic braking and collision avoidance systems.

Because the rear truck can’t see what’s ahead, a video link between a camera on the front truck and a screen in the rear truck shows the driver what’s going on. The video link has been called “another mirror,” meaning the screen is nothing more than another item to look at in order to drive safely.

Other technological features of platooning include a button in each tractor’s floorboard the drivers can press with their left foot in order to talk, and an automatic disconnect from the system if the signal between the two trucks breaks.

Follow the Money

Platooning, although it is costly to implement, can save a large trucking corporation millions of dollars in fuel costs. When two trucks platoon, the front one uses about five percent less fuel because the air turbulence that is normally behind the truck is mitigated by the other truck. The rear truck often uses 10 percent less fuel because it “slipstreams,” or is drawn along behind the front truck by air currents. When you spread the fuel savings over tens of thousands of vehicles, a lot of money can be added to the bottom line.

Platooning, by burning less diesel fuel, also cuts down on emissions and air pollution.

But Is Platooning Safe?

Proponents of platooning and manufacturers of the technology insist that platooning is safer than using non-platooned trucks. Owners believe that having two drivers traveling together can fight fatigue and lower the risk of accidents. If semis have fewer collisions, it follows that lives will be saved. Of the 4,317 people who died in crashes involving tractor-trailers during 2016, 72 percent of those who died were in passenger vehicles, not trucks. Eleven percent of all fatal crashes involve large trucks, even though they make up only four percent of all vehicles on the road.

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A lot of questions remain, however. Some of the concerns of Jonathan Adkins, the executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, include:

  • What would the maximum speed limit for platoons be?
  • Should platoons be limited to the right lane?
  • How will other drivers react to platoons?
  • How do we prevent other vehicles from cutting in between platooning trucks?
  • Will long, multi-truck platoons block exit lanes and ramps?

As of August 1, 2018, Maryland does not permit truck platooning, nor do any of the surrounding states (Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia). Sixteen states, however, either fully or partially allow platooning, and momentum to allow the practice appears to be growing.

Truck Accident? Turn to Steve Heisler, The Injury Lawyer.

If you have been involved in a collision with a large truck, you may feel distressed about severe injuries and paying bills. Steve Heisler has been helping injured people in Maryland for more than two decades with all types of vehicular accidents. Steve’s thorough investigation will uncover the potential defendants in your case, demanding just compensation for your medical expenses, rehabilitation, loss of income, and pain and suffering. If a big rig driver’s negligence caused the death of a loved one, Steve can help your family recover through a wrongful death lawsuit.

Truck crash cases are more likely to be legally complex, involving multiple parties such as the driver’s company, the truck’s owner, the truck’s manufacturer, and others. The trucking company and its insurer will be certain to use a team of lawyers to protect their interests. Call Steve today for a free consultation to protect yours. If you prefer, use our online contact form.