A number of states have relaxed their laws requiring drivers of heavy trucks to keep a safe and sometimes specified distance between the front of their trucks and the vehicles in front of them. The National Law Review explains that relaxing these laws is part of an effort to allow experimental testing of automated truck platooning electronic systems on the states’ roads and highways. The commercial trucking industry is the driving force behind this experiment because it stands to benefit from lower fuel costs. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration supports autonomous vehicle technology, arguing that it can potentially improve safety on the nation’s roads.
Yet, critics, including commercial trucking insiders, caution regulators and lawmakers to slow down efforts to mainstream the automated driving technology. Some of those critics voiced their concerns during a listening session convened by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in Atlanta earlier this year. Participants included representatives from law enforcement agencies, various segments of the trucking industry, bus drivers and other representatives from the motor carrier industry, as well as automation technology developers.
In general, platooning is a form of automated or driver-assisted technology that uses radar and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications to virtually connect a group of trucks. The level of automation varies and will likely be subject to increasing regulation. The V2V communication allows the trucks to create and maintain a closer than typically allowed distance between at least two in-lane vehicles. Sensors or other assisted driving devices sync the connected trucks, which automatically maintains a specific, close distance between the trucks. For example, if the lead truck brakes, then the brakes on the vehicles following behind the lead truck may be automatically engaged.
The key concerns expressed at the listening session focused on the inevitable changes the industry would face and how it is preparing to address those changes, specifically relating to cybersecurity and the safety of both truck drivers and those sharing the roads. Specifically, audience members were concerned about the overlap of the human factor and the automation. They also questioned regulators about how driver-assisted trucks would be identified from other trucks and what safeguards would be implemented to protect the technology from hackers and other interference with the technology.
As with other emerging technology, it is too early to determine the trajectory of platooning. However, hastily rushing a new product to market frequently yields less than desired results and often sacrifices consumer safety.
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Beasley Allen attorney Chris Glover handles cases of personal injury involving heavy trucks, log trucks, 18-wheelers and other commercial vehicles. He is practicing in Beasley Allen’s new Atlanta office. To get your free copy of “An Introduction to Truck Accident Claims: A Guide to Getting Started,” visit our publications page
National Law Review
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration