UPDATE: States pursue permission for truck platoon testing

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/27/2017

Authority to test driver-assistive truck platooning technology on highways is a growing trend at statehouses around the country. The concept uses a lead truck to control the speed and braking of other trucks.

As more and more states attempt to allow testing on their roadways, elected officials at the state and federal levels of government are sharing concerns about where the process is headed.

During a recent gathering of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., multiple governors raised concerns to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao about how the growth of self-driving technologies will affect truck drivers.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates there are more than 1.6 million Americans driving large trucks.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledged the opportunity that autonomous vehicles provide, but both said they are concerned about the potential economic hardship that could be caused along the way.

“For truck drivers, we need to be looking farther out as to what are their career opportunities as we see these autonomous vehicles emerge,” Snyder said. “How do we make sure we’re planning far enough ahead so we don’t create job-loss opportunities for people?”

Chao assured the governors she has the same concerns.

U.S. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Jack Reed of Rhode Island are also raising the issue in Washington, D.C. In a letter this week to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, the senators highlighted additional concerns about use of the technology some say is a decade away.

“The transition to greater use of automated vehicles raises questions about the future of our national and regional economies, and workforce.”

In the meantime, state legislatures from around the country are pursuing rules to permit truck platoon testing. Below are some notable efforts followed by Land Line.

A new law in Arkansas permits truck platooning. Specifically, HB1754 revises state law that covers the minimum requirements for vehicle following distances.

State law mandates a minimum of 200 feet between vehicles traveling on highways.

As early as this summer, platooning vehicles will be exempted from the follow distance rule. Advocates say the change is necessary to greenlight testing of the technology on state roadways.

A licensed commercial driver would be required in each platooning vehicle. An exception would be made on a closed course.

“House Bill 1754 takes us a baby step forward,” Sen. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, said during recent floor discussion. “Nothing in this bill would take a driver out of the seat of the truck. It would only allow trucking companies to put a plan forward to allow platooning technology.”

Trucking companies will be required to submit any plans to the highway commission for approval.

Similar efforts are nearing passage in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law on Tuesday, April 25, that revises the state’s following distance rule.

SB676 also permits the state to come up with rules for platooning and to implement a pilot program.

Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, spoke in opposition to the bill during recent House floor discussion. Keisling, an OOIDA life member, said he has documented traveling nearly two million miles behind the wheel of a truck.

“This is absolutely one of the worst pieces of legislation I have seen in six years on the House floor,” he said. “Let’s get serious. This bill is not about safety for us, our families, and our constituents.”

Instead, Keisling said the bill is about generating “big bucks” for an out-of-state company selling software for trucks.

Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, responded by saying the legislation simply allows a pilot project for testing. Marsh is the chairman of Big G Express in Shelbyville, Tenn.

A South Carolina bill would exempt truck platoons from the state’s minimum 300-foot following distance on all roadways. The Senate Transportation Committee most recently approved the bill, H3289. House lawmakers already voted in favor of the change with unanimous consent.

Across the state line in North Carolina, a similar pursuit is underway.

No minimum distance is listed in state law. Instead, statute defines following too closely as “more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.”

Multiple efforts at the Missouri statehouse would authorize driver-assistive technology on state highways.

State law prohibits truck and bus drivers from following another such vehicle within 300 feet.

Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, and Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, have introduced bills to authorize truck platoons and exempt them from the state’s minimum following distance. Davis’ bill calls for a six-year pilot program to permit testing of up to two vehicles.

Both bills, HB108 and SB243, have advanced from their respective transportation committees and await further consideration in each statehouse chamber.

Pennsylvania has legislation that would set statute for testing of the truck technology on highways.

The Pennsylvania Senate and House Transportation committees met recently to discuss the issue.

Pennsylvania State University-State College has already received $3 million in federal funds to enhance truck platooning, traffic coordination, and vehicle routing for autonomous vehicles.

Keystone State lawmakers say that automated vehicles will play a significant role in the future of transportation.

“It’s important that we understand all of the ramifications of testing them here,” stated Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia.

A California bill would adopt regulations for the testing of autonomous vehicles to haul freight.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles is expected to finalize regulations on the topic by the end of this year.

AB1141 would require the DMV to work with the California Department of Transportation on topics that include appropriate routes for testing and compliance with state and federal requirements for commercial drivers.

Affected vehicles would also be required to have a licensed commercial driver behind the wheel. In addition, operators would be subject to hours-of-service requirements.

The Assembly Transportation Committee voted to advance the bill to the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee.

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