Although 34 states have rules that block trucks and fleets from using a fuel-saving technology called platooning, a new study shows legislatures are making changes to allow the trucking industry to adopt the practice.
Platooning is an emerging vehicle technology in which digitally tethered convoys of two or more trucks travel closely together to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency.
In a report released Wednesday, the privately funded Competitive Enterprise Institute said 10 states in the last year have cleared the way for trucks to travel with as little as 40 feet between them. The trucks must have a radio-based technology called vehicle-to-vehicle communications and automatic emergency braking.
“Automated platooning technology allows trucks to reducing aerodynamic drag, fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions,” said Marc Scribner, a CEI senior fellow and author of the study.
Peloton Technologies says it expects to make two-truck platooning commercially available by the end of 2018. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company claims more than 7 percent fuel savings by trucks accelerating and braking at close distances.
“The business case for the trucking companies is the fuel savings,” said Scribner, who advises the trucking industry. He also coaches states on model legislation that would remove rules, such as one requiring 300 feet between trucks on freeways.
Most legislatures are voting overwhelmingly in favor of the changes, which focus on loosening regulations concerning the distances driver must maintain between vehicles, Scribner said.
“If the momentum keeps up, I think five years is entirely reasonable in order to get the entire country on board,” Scribner told Trucks.com. “You talk to these legislators. They realize how simple the fix is.”
Georgia and Tennessee were the first states to fully welcome platooning, passing legislation in 2017. Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas followed by making commercial platooning legal with exceptions. Michigan’s automated vehicle law included a platooning-friendly exemption. Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin enacted rule exemptions this year. Scribner said Pennsylvania and Illinois could do so later this year.
In Florida, the state House of Representatives voted in favor of rule changes. But disarray in the state Senate after the Feb. 14 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., prevented a vote.
Peloton said Arizona passed a law to allow limited platooning. Ohio, which is red on the CEI map, will allow it within existing laws. A Peloton spokesman said many interested fleet customers have regional routes within a single state.
“As more states and corridors open, it expands the addressable market and provides greater opportunities for fleet and owner-operator platooning and fuel savings,” he said.
Allan Rutter, freight transportation practice leader for the Texas A&M Transportation Research Institute, said the CEI report helps states know where they stand. But he thinks technology experiments beyond platooning are possible without extensive rule changes.
“Certainly, platooning offers fuel efficiency and at least some marginal safety benefits that will allow existing carriers to take advantage of the capacity that’s out there,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty strong case to make to a state legislature.”
Rutter said autonomous trucking, such as the current driver-supported runs from El Paso, Texas, to Los Angeles by self-driving startup Embark, need to be considered along with basic platooning. A four-state Interstate 10 freight corridor he monitors welcomes all technologies and operating strategies “without picking winners and losers.”
Jack Van Steenberg, chief safety officer of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said at a recent public session on automated and autonomous trucking that he would like to see demonstrations in “uncontrolled environments. They need to show that we have safe vehicles out there.”