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Semi-Autonomous Truck Platooning Could be the Future for Commercial Trucking Industry

fleet of semi trucks

Because commercial trucks and tractor-trailers have such an overwhelming potential to cause devastating wrecks, as well as catastrophic injuries and deaths, the trucking industry is under constant scrutiny to abide by and implement new safety measures that protect public safety. Today, trucking industry executives are suggesting that advancing a new form of diver-assistance technology known as platooning may be one way to help.

Platooning involves two semi-autonomous trucks moving as one unit. These vehicles rely on advanced vehicle communication technology and safety sensors to allow a second truck to follow the first at a distance of only 30 to 50 feet, far less than the 200 to 500 foot clearance required of truckers by most state laws. According to industry experts, semi-autonomous truck platooning can lead to considerable savings in fuel costs, which account for roughly 20% of trucking companies’ operating costs.

In addition to saving fuel, as result of the “drafting” effect popularized in bicycle and NASCAR racing, platooning is also purported to reduce the severity of truck accidents. That’s because trucks fitted with the technology would have forward collision avoidance sensors and automatic braking - equipment that one study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute suggests could reduce injuries by as much as 47%.

The Trucking Industry: A History of Prioritizing Profits Over People

The trucking industry’s backing of semi-autonomous truck platooning is a refreshing departure from its history of supporting laws and initiatives that often compromise public safety. As we have seen throughout the years, and especially under the current Presidential administration that favors lax regulatory policies, the trucking industry typically supports policies that allow them to make more money, and resists those which impose costly safety standards.

In just the past several years, these efforts have notably included:

  • The recent termination of programs to develop tougher sleep apnea testing, a condition that makes truckers 5 times more likely to be involved in serious truck wrecks.
  • Continued push for increased weight limits from 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds, and increased trailer length in double-trailer trucks to 33 feet.
  • Recent suspension of mandatory rest breaks for truckers who work up to 75 hours in a week, which are intended to keep tired truckers off the road.
  • Measures to prevent states from implementing and enforcing state laws over commercial trucks, including mandatory rest breaks in lieu of recently rolled back federal rules.
  • Open discouragement of regulators requiring electronic technology (electronic logging devices) to improve oversight of drivers and vehicles, and reduce risks posted by truck driver fatigue.
  • Proposed legislation to lower the federal minimum age for interstate truck drivers from 21 to 18.

Through aggressive lobbying and flooding our politics with money, the trucking industry has time and time again been successful in blocking and rolling back key legislation that promotes safety and protects people. As noted above, many of the objectives and efforts voiced by the industry are counterintuitive to safety, especially at a time when deaths on U.S. roads and highways are increasing – and they speak to its true focus on profits over people.

What the Future Holds for Trucking Companies

With an understanding of what truly motivates the trucking industry, plans like the advancement of semi-autonomous truck platooning should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, such a practice could save trucking companies billions on one of their biggest expenditures – fuel. Still, the technology does provide benefits to public safety, especially when it comes to reducing risks of truck driver error, as trucks fitted with the technology can respond automatically to crash-critical situations, potentially faster and more safely than human drivers. It can also help address the industry’s problem with driver shortages, at least more safely than increasing cargo loads or reducing minimum driver age limits.

As with many proposed efforts in the transportation industry, it remains to be seen what will become of semi-autonomous truck platooning. A large part of the uncertainty comes from the need to revise laws and create exemptions for high tech trucks to decrease minimum following distances, as well as the need for ensuring the technology won’t be prone to failure or cyber-hacking. In the next 20 to 30 years, it’s entirely possible to see such technology, as well as fully autonomous trucks, transporting goods across American highways. The key is to ensure they are tested, adopted, and regulated appropriately – with the ultimate focus being public safety rather than pocket books.

Truck Accident Advocacy: A Firm that Fights for Victims

As a firm that has fought for auto and truck accident victims across Los Angeles and Southern California for decades, Biren Law Group always supports measures that promote safety and reduce the likelihood of preventable tragedies. Throughout the years, we have seen how the prioritization of profits over people continually leads to devastating consequences for victims and their loved ones, and are hopeful that the future brings more promising safety innovations and approaches that curb profit-driven agendas.

While advanced technology may be our future when it comes to transportation and trucking, the fact remains that truck driver error and trucking company negligence still cause thousands of preventable injuries and deaths each year. As such, we make ourselves readily available to victims and families who want more information about their rights and how our award-winning Los Angeles truck accident lawyers can make the difference.

For a free review of your truck accident case, contact us today.