Michigan nears rule changes to accommodate truck platoons

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/3/2018

Work continues in statehouses on the topic of driver-assistive truck platooning technology. The concept uses a lead truck to control the speed and braking of following trucks.

Advocates say truck platooning will save fuel due to 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.

Critics question how automated vehicles and traditional vehicles will interact on roadways. Others doubt whether widespread use of truck platooning technology is realistic.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center reports that Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations are likely to get in the way of automated technology.

During the past three years more than a dozen states have taken action to permit testing of autonomous trucks. The rule changes often require amendments to large vehicle following distance rules.

A bill nearing passage at the Michigan statehouse would revise the state’s following-too-closely rule.

Michigan law already requires that platooning trucks accommodate other vehicles attempting to change lanes or exit the highway. Specifically, affected trucks must “allow reasonable access” for vehicles to maneuver around them.

The Senate Transportation Committee has voted to advance a bill that would retain the provision, but include an amendment to specify that affected trucks traveling on a highway in a platoon would be exempt from the state’s minimum distance following rule.

“The Michigan vehicle code must stay current so that Michigan roadways can continue to embrace these new technologies,” stated Rep. Michael Webber, R-Rochester Hills. “With the advancement of autonomous vehicles on Michigan roads we need to update the law to reflect these changes.”

He added that the change would enhance the transportation of goods in a safe manner.

Critics said they could not support legislation that lacks research on the safety of self-driving technology.

HB5749 awaits a Senate floor vote. Passage would clear the way for the bill to move to the governor’s desk. House lawmakers already approved it.

Pennsylvania

The Keystone State is the most recent state to take action to authorize truck platooning. The new law also permits the state DOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike to use driverless trucks in roadway work zones.

Previously HB1958, the new law permits affected vehicles to operate in violation of the state’s following distance rule for large vehicles. The rule applies for up to three vehicles while working on limited-access highways or interstates.

Tim Scanlon, director of traffic engineering and operations for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has said that while improving roadways in the state with additional traffic lanes and better facilities may provide current customers with a better experience, “it will not be enough to attract the future of commercial haulers. Truck platooning offers to be one of the most beneficial, and game-changing innovations for the future of the transportation industry.”

The approval of this bill allows for the Commonwealth to continue its leadership efforts within the industry by providing an avenue for the commercial industry leaders to use Pennsylvania as a test bed for platooning technology.”

Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, said the technology also provides a significant benefit for road crews and helps reduce injuries from rear-end collisions from motorists who strike the back of attenuator trucks in affected areas.

The trucks serve as a “buffer” vehicle between the work area and approaching traffic. The attenuator is intended to absorb the impact of an errant vehicle.

The new law takes effect in April 2019.

Other states to act

States to enact rule changes this year that address truck platooning on roadways include Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin. The changes in each state focus on granting exemptions to connected trucks from following distances rules for large vehicles.

 

 

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