It’s common for big rigs to tailgate each other, or “platoon” as they call it in the trucking industry. The practice saves fuel, but is it safe? The answer to that is up for debate. But, the legalities of it are not. In many states, platooning is illegal. Other states allow the practice if it’s done safely and if the 2 trucks are not in dangerous proximity.
Several states including Texas are in the process of researching safe ways for trucks to platoon and save fuel costs with the aid of technology. The research being conducted includes that from states comprising the I-10 Connected Freight Corridor Coalition, a collective of transportation officials from Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico – states that have working relationships when it comes to interstate truck transport.
Platooning to Save on Fuel Costs
Truckers and trucking companies have figured out that they can save fuel costs by “slipstreaming.” This is when 2 trucks pair up closely on the road so that air flow is smoother and there’s less drag. The benefit for the truck in the back, or slipstream, of a paired-up tractor-trailer includes a fuel savings of up to 10 percent. For the front partner in a slipstream relationship, fuel savings is about 5 percent.
Since diesel fuel typically comes to about 20 percent of a trucking company’s operating costs, into the billions industry wide, this practice is an attractive one.
Considering the Safety of Platooning
Over all, trucks make up about 11 percent of vehicles involved in fatal crashes on our country’s highways, says the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported:
72 percent of the 4,317 fatalities involving large truck accidents in 2016 were riding passenger vehicles.
Roughly 11 percent were on bicycles, or they were pedestrians, road workers or police officers.
Platooning by using technology to aid slipstreaming is cost effective, but it limits the truck drivers’ ability to make quick decisions while on the road. The practice also hinders a drivers’ control when trying to outmaneuver another vehicle or a hazard in the roadway. Commonly, platooning does rely heavily on the technology installed in some trucks, which is supposed to make safety a non-factor.
The technological details of platooning include a connection between the two trucks, along with real-time data being relayed to both drivers. This is meant to keep both rigs digitally at a safe distance. It doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to, though. Even with cameras installed in both rigs, lost connections happen and our public highways are put at risk.
The Legalities of Tractor-Trailer Platooning
“Following too close” statutes are on the driving books in many states. These regulations impact platooning directly, and some states outright ban the practice. Other states hold truckers exempt from following-too-close rules so that the companies can be test subjects on the safety of platooning.
The research being conducted on platooning in several states involves discovery into whether or not two digitally connected trucks following each other closely can be safe. When electronically linked, the trucks break and accelerate together. They even bypass other drivers together. Included in the studies from the I-10 Connected Freight Corridor Coalition is a report written in conjunction with the Texas A&M Institute of Transportation. The findings will be released shortly. Hopefully, the “Concept of Operations” paper will shed some light on the true safety of platooning.
If you’ve been involved in a truck accident, whether you suspect platooning was the cause of the crash or not, contact Patterson Law Group. Fill out the form on the bottom of this page and one of our attorneys will be in touch to see how we might help.