“Platooning”: Trucks Pair Up to Gain Fuel Economies & Preserve the Environment

The next time you’re driving down the highway and notice two tractor trailers driving a little too close to one another, technology could be playing a role in helping those two vehicles work together as they lumber down the road.

Through a concept known as “platooning,” carriers are combining forward-collision avoidance systems with vehicle-to-vehicle communication to allow multiple trucks to travel closer together, thus enabling fuel economy savings for both vehicles.

This “linking” of two or more trucks in a convoy—using connectivity technology and automated driving support systems—works like this:

  • The truck at the head of the platoon acts as the leader
  • The vehicles behind use technology to react and adapt to changes in the lead vehicle’s movement
  • Drivers remain in control at all times, but little or no action is required on their part

Already in Use in Europe

Mostly used in Europe, platooning could become more common on North American roads in the future. “Worldwide, the European truck industry leads the field in terms of smart driving,” European Truck Platooning states. “ICT and telecom sectors are also ready for the next step in smart mobility. Together, the EU member states could give European truck platooning a boost.”

According to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), the benefits of truck platooning include lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions (namely due to reduction in air-drag friction); improved safety (braking is automatic and immediate); more effective use of roads (fewer traffic jams = faster deliveries); and the freeing up of drivers’ time to make calls or handle administrative work.

Chomping at the Bit 

In Truck Platooning to Become Reality This Year, Truckinginfo’s Jack Roberts notes that early-adopter platooning fleets are “chomping at the bit” and ready to start truck platooning in real-world operations. Peloton Technology, for example, received a $60 million round of funding last year to develop its two-truck, driver-assisted platooning system.

“Companies such as UPS, Volvo, Intel, Nokia, and so on are giving us great participation as we work to bring truck platooning to market,” Peloton’s CEO told Truckinginfo. “We’re going to have our platooning system ready for customer use soon.” In another example, Daimler Trucks plans to start platooning technology trials with its fleet customers in “real-life” situations this year.

In Fuel-Saving, Emissions-Slashing Truck Platooning Technology Advances, Jerry Hirsch notes that nine states have regulations that allow platooning, including Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. More states could join the fray in the near future. “As many as 29 states may allow platooning under existing discretionary following distance laws,” Hirsch writes.

Hurdles Ahead

While the transportation industry may be eager to deploy platooning technology, there are some definite hurdles to overcome.

“I don’t know how comfortable people are driving their Toyota Corolla down the road and seeing a guy in an 80,000-pound truck reading a newspaper,” Mack Trucks’ Jonathan Randall told Trucks.com. “There are a lot of things that need to be done not only from an equipment standpoint, but also from a legislative standpoint and an acceptance level from the general motoring public.”