States pursue permission for truck platoon testing

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor

Authority to test driver-assistive truck platooning technology on highways is a trending topic at statehouses around the country. The concept uses a truck to control the speed and braking of other trucks.

As more and more states attempt to allow testing on their roadways, some elected officials are sharing concerns about where the process is headed.

During the National Governors Association’s winter meetings in Washington, D.C., multiple governors raised concerns to new Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao about how the growth of self-driving technologies will affect truck drivers.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates there are more than 1.6 million Americans driving large trucks.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged the opportunity that autonomous vehicles provide, but he said he is concerned about the potential economic hardship that could be caused along the way.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder shares the concern.

“For truck drivers, we need to be looking farther out as to what are their career opportunities as we see these autonomous vehicles emerge,” Snyder said. “How do we make sure we’re planning far enough ahead so we don’t create job-loss opportunities for people?”

Chao assured the governors she has the same concerns.

Advocates for the technology tout its ability to reduce greenhouse gases, increase energy efficiency, and improve safety in the trucking industry. They add that well-plotted trips would also ease congestion.

Critics question how automated vehicles and traditional vehicles will interact on roadways. Others doubt whether widespread use of the technology is realistic.

Another point raised by critics is that there are few studies that consider the potential impacts of autonomous trucks being able to provide door-to-door delivery.

In the meantime, state legislatures from around the country are pursuing rules to permit truck platoon testing.

Below are some notable efforts followed by Land Line.

The Arkansas Senate voted unanimously to advance a bill to the governor that would permit truck platooning. House lawmakers already approved the bill on an 85-1 vote.

Sponsored by Sen. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, the bill would also revise state law that covers the minimum requirements for vehicle following distances.

State law mandates a minimum of 200 feet between vehicles traveling on highways.

HB1754 would authorize platooning vehicles to follow at a distance between 75 and 125 feet. The change is necessary to greenlight testing of the technology on state roadways.

A licensed commercial driver would be required in each platooning vehicle. An exception would be made on a closed course.

“House Bill 1754 takes us a baby step forward allowing the trucking companies to use what is known as platooning technology – much like adaptive cruise control,” Collins said during floor discussion.

“Nothing in this bill would take a driver out of the seat of the truck. It would only allow trucking companies to put a plan forward to allow platooning technology.”

He added that trucking companies would need to submit any plans to the highway commission for approval.

Similar efforts are underway in Iowa, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The Iowa DOT says the change is needed to allow companies interested in testing the technology to access the state’s roadways.

In Tennessee, the Senate voted unanimously to advance their version of the platooning rule with the following distance change.

“The rule right now is they have to be separated by

300 feet. (The bill) allows them, once they are communicating vehicle-to-vehicle, to pull right up against one another,” said Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville.

The bill, SB676, has moved to the House. The House version, HB751, awaits clearance to the House floor.

Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, said the bill would permit the state to come up with rules that cover truck platoons of up to two vehicles. He added that the system provides safety and economic benefits.

“The first truck gets about 5 percent better fuel economy. The second truck gets 10 percent,” Marsh told the House Transportation Committee before the vote to advance the bill.

“If a car pulls in between them, (the system) shuts off and both drivers take over. Both drivers are in there alert.”

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, said the fuel savings the technology would provide comes at a good time with state lawmakers looking to increase the state’s fuel tax rates.

Multiple efforts renewed at the Missouri statehouse would authorize driver-assistive technology on state highways. One year ago then-Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill to set up a six-year pilot program to permit testing truck platoons of up to two vehicles with less than 50 feet separation.

State law prohibits truck and bus drivers from following another such vehicle within 300 feet.

Nixon said at the time that although automated driving technology has advanced significantly in recent years, the “long-term safety and reliability of this technology remains unproven.”

He added that “using Missouri highways as a testing ground for long-haul trucks to deploy this unproven technology is simply a risk not worth taking at this time.”

Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, and Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, have introduced bills to authorize truck platoons and exempt them from the state’s minimum following distance.

Testifying before a House committee earlier this year, Teamsters representative Jerry Wood said the legislation lacks critical detail and raises safety concerns. He added the technology could result in accidents by reducing the spacing between trucks if any type of mechanical failure or other incident occurs.

Both bills, HB108 and SB243, have advanced from their respective transportation committees and await further consideration in each statehouse chamber.

Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania have legislation that would set state statute for testing of the truck technology on highways.

California bill covers the intent of the Legislature to enact autonomous vehicle legislation that addresses freight vehicle safety. LL