Seven states authorize truck platoon testing

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, August 31, 2017

The trend to test driver-assistive truck platooning technology on highways around the country continues to speed ahead. The concept uses a lead truck to control the speed and braking of other trucks.

Advocates say truck platooning will save fuel because of reduced aerodynamic drag, lessen traffic congestion, and improve highway safety. Some supporters acknowledge it will work best on relatively flat, divided highways outside of populated areas.

In an effort to encourage testing on their roadways, states are working out agreements for multistate testing. One example is the I-10 Corridor Coalition connecting ports in Long Beach, Calif., and Los Angeles to Houston.

To make the testing a reality along the I-10 corridor and elsewhere, state legislators are taking action to eliminate legal barriers. The actions revise state laws about following too closely and to allow testing.

In 2015, Utah became the first state to take action to permit testing. Florida and Michigan followed suit a year ago. So far this year more than a half-dozen states have acted.

One state to take action this summer is Nevada.

The Silver State has authorized testing of autonomous vehicles in the past but there was no state law specifying the practice is legal. The new law makes platooning legal.

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

Arkansas law mandates a minimum of 200 feet between vehicles traveling on highways. The revision exempts platooning vehicles from the following distance rule.

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

Sen. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, said the new law does not 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 are required to submit any plans to the Arkansas State Highway Commission for approval.

One new law in Texas does not explicitly exempt platooning vehicles from the state’s “sufficient space to enter and occupy without danger” requirement for following distance. Instead, HB1791 permits a vehicle equipped with a connected braking system to control the braking systems of following vehicles.

Tennessee law requires a 300-foot minimum following distance for large trucks. A new law amends the state’s distance rule to accommodate truck platoons.

SB676 applies to “a group of individual motor vehicles that are traveling in a unified manner at electronically coordinated speeds.” The new law also permits the state to implement a pilot program.

Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, opposed the legislation as it made its way through the statehouse. Keisling, an OOIDA life member, said he has documented traveling nearly 2 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 change is about generating “big bucks” for an out-of-state company selling software for trucks.

A change made in Georgia law now exempts automated platooning vehicles, including large trucks, from the state’s following-too-close rule. State statute requires all other traffic to provide “sufficient space to enter and occupy without danger.”

Also signed into law in South Carolina is an exemption for truck platoons from the state’s minimum following distance. Specifically, H3289 frees affected trucks from the state’s requirement to provide “sufficient space to enter and occupy without danger” on all roadways.

Across the state line in North Carolina, a new law also has been enacted.

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.”

HB716 excuses platooning commercial vehicles from distance rules as long as the state DOT authorizes the activity.

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