What Is “Platooning” of Big Rig Trucks, and Is It Safe?
Imagine a line of trucks driving down the highway, each responding automatically through wireless technology to the behavior of the one in front of it — like a convoy driven by a single lead driver. If the trucking industry has its way, these technology-enabled truck “platoons” could soon become a familiar sight on our highways.
But are truck platoons a good idea, especially given the trucking industry’s questionable safety record? In this article, we’ll explain the concepts behind truck platooning and discuss some related safety concerns that regulators and ordinary drivers need to consider.
What Is a Truck Platoon?
Truck platooning involves setting up two or more trucks so they travel closely together in a single-file line. When trucks drive down the highway together like this, it creates air flows that boost the fuel efficiency of all the trucks in the platoon. This means they can travel farther on less fuel, save money, and increase profits for trucking companies.
However, for truck platooning to work, the vehicle behind has to follow the vehicle in front very closely, leaving a space of only about 20 to 50 feet. Since this tiny gap doesn’t allow the driver of the second truck much reaction time if the first truck stops, truck platooning requires the help of wireless safety systems that activate the follower trucks’ brakes if the leader truck slows down.
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The trucking companies and trucking industry lobbying groups that promote truck platooning claim the wireless systems are extremely safe and highly responsive, with only milliseconds of delay between the lead truck braking and the follower truck(s) responding. Major commercial vehicle manufacturers like Mercedes and Daimler are currently launching platooning pilot programs in Europe to try and demonstrate the safety of truck platoons and clear the way for regulatory approval in the United States.
Truck Platooning Raises Serious Safety Concerns
The potential hazards that truck platooning poses for ordinary drivers are serious. First, imagine driving down the freeway in the left lane with a long line of trucks, each one 20 to 50 feet behind the next, on your right. If you need to get off at the next exit, how will you safely get over to the right lane and leave the freeway?
You could miss your exit, slow down to an unreasonably slow speed to let the trucks pass, or hit the gas and drive well over the speed limit to try and pass the trucks quickly — none of which are desirable options. At best, these situations could pose major inconveniences for drivers. At worst, they could lead drivers to speed or try and weave between the trucks, which would almost inevitably lead to deadly truck wrecks.
However, the behavior of ordinary drivers around trucks is much less of a concern than the behavior of trucks around ordinary drivers. The trucking industry has a poor track record of complying with regulations and prioritizing safety, which has led to continuous year-over-year increases in the annual number of deadly truck crashes since 2007. Trucking companies have responded to the recent shortage of qualified drivers by hiring inexperienced drivers and failing to give them adequate training, and companies have also refused to implement reforms that would prevent drivers from continuing to operate commercial trucks after drug-related arrests.
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Also, truck drivers often drive through serious fatigue and violate hours-of-service regulations under coercion from their employers. This level of fatigue can lead to problems focusing, impaired judgment, and delayed reaction times. It can even cause drivers to fall asleep at the wheel — a deadly enough occurrence when each driver is controlling the behavior of one massive truck, let alone two or more.
Since the concept of truck platooning relies on the follower trucks mimicking the behavior of the lead driver, it raises the question: Why would we want to compound the mistakes of fatigued, undertrained drivers and turn truck wrecks into truck pile-ups? Until the trucking industry can improve its safety record, address its shortage of drivers, and demonstrate that it’s made efforts to improve hiring and training practices, truck platooning is an idea best left on the drawing board and off our highways.
Contact Truck Wreck Justice if You’ve Been Hurt in a Trucking Accident
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a crash involving a large truck or bus, Truck Wreck Justice Attorney Morgan Adams is here to help. With years of experience and a sole focus on cases involving large vehicles, Morgan Adams is a powerful advocate for trucking accident victims and an experienced litigator who won’t hesitate to fight for your rights in court.
Please contact Truck Wreck Justice at (866) 580-4878 or fill out our online contact form if you need help after a collision with a truck or bus. We offer free consultations to help you understand your legal options, and we handle cases on a contingent fee basis: You’ll never pay fees or case expenses unless we help you achieve a financial recovery through a jury verdict or settlement.
Commendatore, C. (2018, June 1). For truck platooning to work, here’s what has to happen. Fleet Owner. Retrieved from https://www.fleetowner.com/technology/truck-platooning-work-here-s-what-has-happen
NHTSA: Large truck crash fatalities increased in 2016. (2017, October 9). American Trucker. Retrieved from https://www.trucker.com/safety/nhtsa-large-truck-crash-fatalities-increased-2016
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.