Long time truck drivers will tell you that they have, on many occasions, tailgated, or drafted, another truck to save on fuel. A new semi-truck technology called platooning works on the same principle, but makes the practice safer and more efficient. Platooning involves digitally connecting a series of trucks, led by a lead driver and subsequent platoon vehicles. The concept is to reduce overall fuel consumption and emissions as well as enabling carriers to move loads farther and faster than before.
Platooned semi-trucks are tethered together in pairs via a digital, vehicle-to-vehicle communication system that controls braking and other vehicle controls. In effect, it allows multiple trucks to operate as one cohesive unit as they traverse the highway. Therefore, the trucks remain consistent in their speed and brake simultaneously when the lead truck applies the brakes. The result is a tightly spaced, fuel efficient convoy that cuts shipping costs and reduces driver fatigue.
Federal regulations require that trucking companies reduce emissions and that starts with reducing fuel usage. According to research undertaken by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) and Auburn University, fuel savings of 5% to 10% are possible with platooning. The lead truck in any platoon would realize 5% savings, while the second would achieve up to 10%. When used within a fleet, the overall savings are substantial. However, it's unclear how the fuel savings will be shared between non-fleet vehicles to assure everyone benefits from platooning together.
While the technology to allow platooning is already being developed and tested, there are other issues that will have to be ironed out before it becomes common practice. One issue involves the minimum distance that trucks can legally follow one another. In some states, the distance may be too far away for the technology to work. Other issues include consistent placement of equipment to reduce driver confusion when changing vehicles. Additionally, seemingly small things like bathroom breaks and other non-scheduled stops must be worked out between platoon drivers.
Truck platoons are an innovative solution to the problem of fuel consumption. However, before they become common on the nation's highways, there are certainly some issues to overcome. That said, truck manufacturers are already manufacturing trucks with the technology in place. It's only a matter of time before they are a fact of life, rather than a concept on the drawing table. If you would like to learn more about this topic, or anything related to the trucking industry, feel free to contact us. We welcome the opportunity to speak to you.