truck on highway

Platooning Technology: Will It Really Prevent Truck Accidents?

Illinois residents are used to seeing large tractor trailers driving down the highway at top speeds. The trucking industry is the number one way that companies move freight across the country. From milk and gasoline to cars, trucks haul it. New technology may change the way people think about large trucks on America’s roadways, though. A company out of California is pioneering a system that would connect the vehicles electronically, making it possible for one driver to control more than one truck at a time.

A fully loaded tractor trailer typically weighs approximately 80,000 pounds, which is the legal weight limit. For years, trucking companies have been interested in developing ways to increase these limits without adding to the number of drivers they must employ. While this new system does not entirely eliminate a second driver, it significantly changes the driver’s role. A wrongful death lawyer in Chicago may be interested in understanding how this technology affects traffic.

Computer, radio and radar technology

The new automated truck driving technology, called Driver-Assistive Truck Platooning, or DATP, allows trucks to drive within 20 feet of each other so they can take advantage of the draft and reduced wind resistance. A convoy of trucks can “hook up” to a lead vehicle through the technology, becoming a train or platoon as they travel. According to the manufacturer, this saves on fuel while also promoting greater safety.

Every truck in this system would be connected through sensors and a forward-looking radar. The dedicated short-range communication system links computers within the cabs by a 5.9 GHz radio band, which the Federal Communications Commission would allocate specifically for connected vehicles. Assistive braking technology is also a piece of this puzzle.

Once the system is engaged by both drivers, the throttle and braking input data in the computer of the lead tractor are transmitted to the onboard processor of the vehicle in the rear. The radio link does away with the need for the rear truck to respond to its own radar system. Instead, the throttle and brakes of the vehicle respond to the acceleration and deceleration automatically and simultaneously. Operators remain in full control of the steering in their own trucks, and can exit the link at any time.

Human reaction time

The reaction time that the computers, radar and radio links enable is one way that advocates believe will improve safety on the highway. A wrongful death lawyer in Chicago is aware of research showing that human reaction time has several components, including the following:

  • Amount of time it takes to process the stimulus mentally
  • How long it takes the person to make the reactionary movement
  • Distance the vehicle travels before it responds

Experts agree that the average reaction time for a driver who is paying full attention to the task of driving is between one and two seconds. In a passenger car that is moving at 65 miles per hour, the braking distance is approximately 300 feet. Tractor trailers typically travel 40 percent farther with the same reaction because of the size and weight of the vehicles. This means they may require more than 500 feet to bring the vehicle to a complete stop.

Projected system reaction time

Law enforcement and state officials in California and Nevada who have been involved in the testing of this system have expressed astonishment at the reaction time possible between the vehicles. Rather than an approximate 1.5-second processing time, the components connecting the vehicles cause them to react within fractions of a second. The truck that requires the greatest stopping distance is always the lead truck.

As the lead driver responds to traffic, the second vehicle follows suit. If a vehicle gets between the trucks, the system creates a safe amount of distance between them until the car moves on, and then they draw together again automatically. The system is monitored closely through a cloud-based network run by the manufacturer. At the operations center, data from the trucks’ sensors are analyzed, as well as weather, highway conditions and other variables. Trucks are advised through this system whether they are in a situation where platooning is safe.

Safety regulations and policies

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently researching safety issues involved in implementing this technology, as well as developing recommendations for states concerning the testing, licensing and regulations of all vehicle automation levels. The policy explains vehicle innovation and the potential safety benefits, lists the research done, and makes recommendations on how to ensure operational safety for highway testing.

According to the NHTSA, there are five levels of vehicle automation that range from none at all to fully self-driving. Most new vehicles include at least some function automation, such as adaptive cruise control and lane centering technology. The research and policies provided by the NHTSA are meant to guide lawmakers as they address the implementation of this technology.

The constant electronic monitoring of the system may help motivate truck drivers to maintain a higher level of focus on the road. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, driver action or inaction is the primary cause of fatal trucking accidents. It remains to be seen how lawmakers and enforcement officials will be able to reduce the threat posed by human error once the technology is implemented.

Motor vehicle crashes involving large trucks often cause significant injuries, permanent disabilities and fatalities due to the sheer size of the vehicles. A wrongful death lawyer in Chicago may be able to help victims receive the compensation to which they are entitled by law.