Arkansas Truckers Tackle Automated Driving

Arkansas Truckers Tackle Automated Driving
Peloton’s truck platooning system uses Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication to connect the braking and acceleration between the two trucks. (Peloton Tech)

I freely admit that the idea of automated driving seems like a horrible idea.

If you don’t know how to parallel park, go learn. Don’t buy a car that does it for you at the push of the button. Technology is meant to help humans, not replace our ability to function at all.

Parallel parking is not rocket science. If you think it is, then you need to study up on what rocket science is, too.

I am not against technology. I love my cruise control, and my life was changed when my 18-year-old daughter showed me how I could use a cable to hook my phone up to the car’s stereo system so I could listen to my playlists over the speakers — just not while she is in the car because she finds my music tastes totally and completely embarrassing; she could literally die.

She will never enjoy “The Safety Dance” and I’ve come to terms with that.

But an old fuddy-duddy like me is passé. It’s a new world out there and technology is king.

The Arkansas Trucking Association is trying to move the state forward in that vein a couple of trucks at a time. A vote is expected this week on House Bill 1754, which would allow exceptions to a state law that requires trucks to keep 200 feet apart on state highways.

The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville. Its purpose is to allow two or more trucks with advanced safety technology to use “platooning” in Arkansas.

The Arkansas Trucking Association spent time educating legislators about the vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology involved and why it is important. The bill has passed the House’s transportation committee and the full House.

“Our association’s board supported platooning-enabling legislation,” said Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association. “We have some members who have invested heavily in very advanced safety technology, including but not limited to collision avoidance and lane departure. Their trucks are the safest trucks on the road.”

Platooning is a truck version of Nascar drafting, only with automation systems that control the acceleration and braking for the trucks involved. It means fuel savings; Peloton Technology, a company that is assisting the Arkansas Trucking Association and a leading advocate of platooning, said fuel savings could be as much as 7 percent.

To get the fuel savings, the trucks have to be much closer, which is where the safety technology comes into play. If the lead truck has to brake suddenly, then the trailing trucks will instantly do the same, thus avoiding a collision.

Platooning Explained from Peloton Technology on Vimeo.

The technology is also designed to shut off if a nonparticipating vehicle gets between the trucks. The argument is that the machine can brake faster than a human can.

Newton said Arkansas has a handful of trucking companies that would like to try the technology. They can’t, though, if their trucks have to stay 200 feet apart, thus the legislation proposal.

Newton said it is important to know — and this was part of her association’s meetings with state legislators — that the bill would not throw the entire state and every truck in it into a state of unregulated platooning. The legislation would require that trucking companies show their plans to the state’s highway commission, which would approve their proposed platoons, thus allowing the trucks involved to travel separated by less than 200 feet.

For trucking companies that have invested millions in technological safety advancements, platooning would be a chance to reap some of the financial benefits from fewer collisions and better fuel mileage.

“We are actually incentivizing investing in the safety technology,” Newton said.

In this matter, I have no doubts about the sincerity of trucking companies. Fewer crashes and more miles per gallon mean more profits.

The trucking companies would have to submit detailed proposals to the highway commission to show which routes, what time of day and how many trucks would be used for each platoon run. That information would be shared with law enforcement officials so they would know which trucks are exempt from the 200-foot rule.

“Everything will be very transparent,” Newton said. “If it goes well, the commission will be able to be more lenient [with future proposals]. If it is not, they will be able to use more discretion and limit it.”

To a fuddy-duddy’s concern about driving robots, Newton said the legislation requires the driver of the truck to be actively involved, even if instant braking and acceleration decisions are in the hands of advanced technology.