Automated vehicle platooning refers to an application of driving automation system technology that allows vehicles, via wireless connection, to coordinate speeds in order to safely reduce the gap between leading and following vehicles. Benefits include improved aerodynamics and reduced fuel consumption (and emissions), reduced congestion, and improved safety. Unfortunately, obsolete state laws remain the primary impediment to deploying this technology.
At present, the trucking industry is interested in near-term deployment of platooning technologies primarily for the fuel-savings benefit. This lower-level automation technology coordinates speed and braking, but requires truck drivers to be alert and on-task during platooning operations. The industry leader at the moment is Peloton Technology, which has already commercially launched its two-truck platooning system with six customers, Peloton CEO Josh Switkes told attendees at the Automated Vehicles Symposium this morning. Peloton estimates that its two-truck platooning system operating at 65 mph can result in a 7.25 percent platoon fuel savings (4.5 percent for the lead vehicle and 10 percent for the following vehicle). In limited field operations with its first six customers, Switkes said real-world platoon fuel savings have averaged above 7 percent to date.
This is somewhat short of the self-driving truck prototypes that have captured media attention, which remain a more distant goal. Yet, even though this isn’t self-driving and human beings remain in the driver seat, trucks equipped with this type of platooning technology can still improve safety. Somewhat counterintuitively, these safety benefits would accrue primarily outside of an active platoon. This is because while closing the gap between speed-coordinated vehicles may only provide a level of safety equivalent to vehicles without this required equipage (or perhaps slightly better), equipped vehicles that leave a platoon still possess a collision avoidance system (CAS). When outside a platoon, CAS-equipped, platooning-ready vehicles will have sensors that can still detect sudden braking or other roadway hazards and respond faster than a human driver.
Deploying this technology in the near-term is far more likely than more advanced and complex self-driving tech, and is something policy makers of all political persuasions ought to support. However, the chief barrier remains present in most states: following-too-closely laws that do not exempt platooning vehicles.
As of July 2019, 20 states have exempted platooning vehicles from following-too-closely rules in some way (see the map below, where the 20 states are either yellow or green).
Green-light jurisdictions are those that have exempted automated platooning vehicles from following-too-closely rules without unnecessary restrictions. Yellow-light jurisdictions are those that have enacted exemptions with unnecessary restrictions that should be eliminated. And red-light jurisdictions are those that have not provided platooning exemptions from following-too-closely rules, including jurisdictions that have enacted test pilots, those that have received uncodified administrative permission to operate, and those that have attempted in the past to enact an exemption. At press time for the 2019 handbook for state legislators, 10 jurisdictions received green lights, 10 yellow, and 35 red.
To see where your state stands, check out the 2019 handbook for state legislators, which includes specific model exemption legislation for each jurisdiction and notes on recent legislative activity.