Trucking Safety Technology Update: A Fancy Headset For All Your Needs

Sure, you are probably thinking, “Why would a truck driver want to put a headset on? Isn’t that technically unsafe?” Yes, it is, but it also depends on the nature and use of the headset.

When combined with telematics and other advanced safety systems, a simple headset could have a number of uses. Sensors built into the headset act as a wearable, monitoring specific aspects of bodily functions and movements to catch potential fatigue, distraction, or risky driving behavior.

Test Runs

Many large trucking companies are already testing new technologies such as advanced headsets. One 1,100-truck motor carrier with primarily flatbed operations has decided to test an advanced telematic, sensor-equipped headset solution to assess the safety benefits.

Where headsets have benefits is in their flexibility. A wearable wrist-device only provides monitoring and feedback. A high-quality Bluetooth headset, on the other hand, provides a way for the operator to engage in hands-free communication. Truck drivers can get voice commands from navigation apps or even listen to music or have a conversation with dispatch if need be.

With a speaker over only one ear, the truck driver can still clearly hear everything that is going on in and around his or her vehicle. Even better, truck drivers will see this as an essential communication and entertainment tool, when in fact it would also be a vital safety device.

The sensors inside the headset are able to detect subtle movements of the head. They can sense if the operator is looking at a gauge on the dashboard, or objects in or around the vehicle. Once calibrated, the built-in sensors can also utilize an algorithm to detect head bobs, lack of movement, or other signs of drowsiness, fatigue, or sleep risk.

There’s An App for That

With the smartphone age upon us, there seems to be an app for anything and everything, including the safety headset, which can communicate with a Co-Pilot app. With the app pulled up on their smartphone, the truck drivers will receive real-time driving feedback and even provides scores to rate them on whether they are doing things like checking their mirrors in a timely fashion.

Since the entire solution is also built with the ability to communicate with a truck’s CAM, it can also provide real-time data and feedback regarding speed, braking, turns, and more. Users even have the ability to program their own voice as the recording alert should the system need to provide an alert or warning.

Fleet managers benefit by having access to a web portal that gives them truck driver risk and skill levels. Managers can use that data for friendly competitions or better calibrate truck driver behaviors through private meetings and coaching sessions based on the data.

If a fleet manager wants to see if their truck drivers are checking their mirrors before proceeding through an intersection, they can easily log into their portal and pull up either historical or real-time data on any operator within the fleet who is on the system.

Many wonder how well these systems will take in the face of truck driver skepticism. It’s no great secret that truck drivers are not fans of inward-facing cameras, so will they see these other technologies as an acceptable alternative?

Provided motor carriers are properly positioning these technologies as a way for a truck driver to advance, do a better job, perhaps get a bonus or be recognized in some other way, there is no reason why truck drivers on their payroll should see this as a bad thing.

Technology is already changing the way we drive commercial motor vehicles, maybe it is time to embrace how it will change our levels of safe driving.

How Proper Lighting Can Keep Your Maintenance Shop Safe

We talk a lot about truck driver safety, but what about the safety of others within your organization. Certainly, heavy duty vehicle maintenance shop environments across North America can also be unsafe environments. Yet, studies have found that one of the best ways to keep your shop technicians safe is to ensure their work environment is well lit and easily navigable.

There are specific tools and accessories available to fleets to help make the shop one of the safest place to work in the company. Fleets should not be concerned only with the well-being of their truck drivers, but also with the well-being of anyone working within their company. Shop technicians have one of the most arduous jobs in the fleet. Working around all that heavy equipment, vehicles notwithstanding, represents a high level of danger.

It is important to spec equipment and options for your fleet technicians that do everything from reduce accidents to minimize eye strain, and enable better health, all without sacrificing efficiency or productivity along the way. Mission number one at any shop or service facility should not be regarding whether the vehicles are fixed properly (which is important), but rather if the people doing the fixing are operating safely.

So, what is a fleet to do to ensure their technicians are operating in a safe and supportive environment?

Lighting Systems

A well-lit workspace is important to just about anyone. Whether you are at a desk in a cubicle or working in a service facility, having enough light to do the job and minimize eye strain is critical, not just for morale and motivation but for safety and health. Ensuring the environment is conducive to fewer injuries and more productivity is the holy grail of all safety managers.

Here are some lighting options that will go a long way to making sure your technicians feel appreciated:

1.      Lift Lighting: Do your shop technicians have to work around lifts and columns. Mobile column lift lighting are DC-powered units that use LED or fluorescent technology to provide ample lighting to technicians working on or around a lift.

2.      Platform Lighting: Four-post platform lift lighting provides lighting using impact-resistant LEDs. They are used to illuminate the area beneath undercarriages and have settings that allow them to switch on-and-off automatically.

3.      Palm Lighting: Sometimes nothing works better than a simple light in the hand. Whether it is a palm light, a flashlight or some other accessory, being able to use your hand to direct where you want the light to go is key for any technician trying to effectively get the job done.

Many of these solutions can be powered either by lithium-ion battery or plugged directly into a wall outlet. The latest offerings use less energy while providing even greater illumination.

The safety benefits go beyond even lighting. Manufacturers of lighting and illumination systems have branched out, creating advanced heavy-duty, full-color, touch-screen control consoles that control high-pressure inground telescopic piston lifting systems.

These systems are designed to create a more comprehensive level of human-machine interaction. Not only does the technician have greater control of the lift, but the illuminated touch-screen makes learning and manipulating the controls a far easier proposition.

The fact is, motor carriers need to be taking special care to ensure their fleet technicians feel safe on the job and have the tools they need to carry it out. Investing in safety systems, new technologies, and cutting-edge lift controls, among many other things, proves to your people that their safety and success is at the forefront of your decision-making process. That way you can count on them to remain a part of your trucking family for a long time to come

How Virtual Reality Has Increased Trucking Safety

Some point to the fact that trucking accidents and fatalities have been on the rise in the past few years. Yet, it isn’t only the trucking industry that has seen a rise in workplace incidents. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, companies have been increasingly turning to virtual reality as an answer to increasing trucking safety measures and positively impacting their BASIC scores.

If there is one company that seems to be always at the forefront of change, it is UPS. They began using virtual reality (VR) as a supplement to their new truck driver safety exercises and it has yielded positive dividends where decreased accidents are concerned. With the economy improving and package deliveries rising, the company plans to use the program to train thousands of workers in 2018.

VR Safety Training Explained

The program UPS uses includes safety modules designed to help truck drivers notice road hazards, whether they be pedestrians, light poles, curbs, or other vehicles. The truck drivers that go through the training exercise wear a 360-degree virtual reality headset that gives them a front-to-back 360-degree field of view.

Not only does using these systems increase the caliber of training a fleet can offer, they are fun! In a time where the truck driver employee shortage seems to be more acute than ever, providing a gamificaton level of training that is both fun and educational is a definite draw for truck drivers looking for something special about a prospective employer.

Improving the overall safety measures of the trucking industry requires a collective effort. The motor carriers utilizing these systems is not limited to only dry van, reefer, or flat bed operators.

How will fleets operating industrial gas or other hazardous materials incorporate virtual reality into their training? Will the training extend to truck driver actions around the cab? What will be the range of movement that those in the program can expect?

Virtual reality provides those using the system with a way to train their muscle memory before they even step foot in the cab. Once they have gone through it enough times, the risk of accident is reduced. Think about this type of training in the way that a guitar player who practices regularly, whether for an audience or not, hones his or her skills over time.

Technology is the Answer

If there is one topic that seems to come up on a regular basis, it is how technology continues to change the trucking industry. VR simply adds to this paradigm. As computing power increases, VR allows users to overlay graphics, create real-world situations, emulate actual routes, learn how hazardous materials react under certain situations, and more.

When a truck driver can both see through an object and know that his or her decision related to said object is not a life-or-death one, it provides clear insight into how that operator will react in the heat of the moment.

VR systems provide a contextual understanding of objects and systems without the stress or worry of damaging critical components or causing an unnecessary problem. But are VR systems confined only to large fleets? Can smaller operators reap any benefit from these systems?

The answer is yes. With so many trucking companies out there looking for ways to both cut costs and grow their business, they are turning to technology as an answer. VR can play a pivotal role in increasing trucking safety and adding something unique to both fleet training and retention efforts.

As companies try to put a meaningful dent in the truck driver shortage, will technologies like VR be the answer. Some say yes. Either way, it appears that the use of VR systems within trucking applications will only rise over time.

Safety Initiatives Taking Hold

No matter where you are around the globe, trucking safety initiatives are changing the industry. Trucking advocacy groups and fleets alike are doing everything they can to improve their safety profiles and raise awareness for trucking safety and overall advancement, no matter where they are around the globe.

In one heartwarming trucking story, the Australian Trucking Association has supported a campaign advocated by students from Swinburne University called “Don’t Truck Around.” The university’s Communication Design department completes an annual campaign focused on safe driving measures, from using a cell phone while driving to drinking and driving.

The campaign also aims to teach youth how to interact with large commercial motor vehicles once they finally start driving. Knowing how to react around a large truck is an important part of safely operating a passenger vehicle on any road anywhere in the world.

The numbers of commercial motor vehicles operating on Australian roads is only set to continue increasing over time, leaving that country with an essential choice. The Australian Trucking Association partnered with the school to pick top finalists to pitch their campaign.

In good news for trucking in general, no matter who won the competition, our compatriots down under stated they would use the feedback garnered from everyone who pitched, as well as information gleaned from their annual conference. They expressed interest in integrating it within the future decisions made regarding trucking in Australia.

Large U.S. Outfits Integrate Safety Systems

One of the largest players in trucking, Penske Logistics, has made a decision that will likely push safety technologies in a way that could see greater adoption across the trucking spectrum.

With a fleet of 2,800 heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles, the company has pledged to add video-based safety technologies to the mix. The technologies they have committed to outfitting on their fleet will include event-triggered on-board cameras that face both inside and outside the cab.

They hope to use the inward-facing camera information for truck driver coaching initiatives and bettering of fleet safety initiatives. Their commitment to outfitting these technologies also extends to older fleet vehicles.

Penske had previously run a pilot program within the company using the methodology from the larger idea. Internal company reports pointed to good results from the internal tests. The company reported a reduction in road safety incidents and higher overall safety scores for their truck drivers.

This technology will add to other technologies in use by the company, from backup alarms to collision-avoidance systems and more.

Using the Smith System

The company relies on the Smith System to train its truck drivers on the best way to operate a big rig. The Smith System relies on five key factors designed to reduce collisions, prevent injuries and save lives.

The five common principles of the Smith System of truck driving include aiming high on your steering, always being on the keen lookout for hazards, never get lost in a glare and stare. Always keep your eyes open and leave yourself a way to get out of a hazardous situation.

Always keep aware of the area of space around your tractor-trailer and make sure passenger cars and others on the road can always see you, whether through the use of your signals, lights, horn or other implement.  The Smith System uses a rating system to determine the safety efficacy of the truck drivers under the system’s tutelage.

With so many decisions within the trucking industry focused on safety, expect constant evolution in the sector. No matter the system used, trucking will continue to improve its safety profile the world over for a very long time; a good thing for everyone involved.

Staying Safe On The Job: Essential Tips For Every Professional Truck Driver

If you are a professional truck driver, you know how important it is to take special care on the job. Being a truck driver does not come without on-the-job risks, but if you take special care, you can ensure your health and safety from your first day on the job all the way through to your retirement.

The good news is that safety training and technologies have made it easier than ever for truck drivers to avoid nasty injuries on the job. And as a professional truck driver yourself, you can contribute to this ongoing trend. That’s why we wanted to cover often-overlooked on-the-job safety tips every truck driver should keep in mind.

Move Around

Being a truck driver is a sedentary job, much like many jobs nowadays. This is why it is important to take time to get out of the vehicle and move around. Minimizing your time spent in the cab’s seat helps keep your body healthy and limber. Don’t just sit in the driver’s seat while at rest stops. If your cab is equipped with a bed, you may even want to lie down and stretch, as opposed to sitting in your seat.

Clothing Matters

There is nothing worse than wearing tight or chafing clothing during long hours in the your vehicle. You want to wear loose, comfortable clothing and footwear. A big part of this is blood circulation. Not only does a lack of circulation lead to major health problems down the road, it is also incredibly uncomfortable.

Avoid Long Jumps

One of the most dangerous things a truck driver can do is jump from the cab down to the ground. You want to make sure you step carefully out of your vehicle and take great care in getting to the ground. One foot or hand should always be on a support piece, whether on ascent or descent to and from the vehicle. If you lose your grip or otherwise find yourself in an awkward position, it can lead to injury or worse.

Don’t Be A Hero

Never try to be the toughest guy on the block when handling loads. If possible, use mechanized equipment to handle loads. If you do not have equipment to help you, don’t attempt to lift a load you think may be too heavy for you. Also avoid lifting from your back if you do have to lift a box. If a load is too heavy for you, seek assistance.

Consider Road Vibrations

Whether you are truck driver or fleet manager, consider the effect road vibrations have on the occupant of a vehicle. If the vehicle is an older model, vibrations can have a negative impact on the entire body. When vibrations occur over a long period of time, critical bones and organs can be subject to injury, from the spine to other internal body structures.

Consider The Cab

Relating to road vibrations, it is important to consider a truck’s interior design. From the instrument panel’s layout to insulation and reduction of interior noise, all of these are important factors. Trucking companies and owner operators must pay careful attention to the layout of the cab to ensure both maximum comfort and safety at all times.

Watch For Fatigue

It is critically important for truck drivers to watch for fatigue. If you have been driving for many hours, non-stop, fatigue can be a major problem. If you become inattentive while driving your commercial motor vehicle, it can result in a major accident or worse. You should always practice safety and realize that when fatigue steps in, getting your load there in time should take a back seat.

 

How To Incentivize Better Safety Within Your Fleet

When it comes to training your tuck drivers to operate safer out on the nation’s roads, why not add an element of competition to incentivize behavioral change on a macro scale. We’re here to tell you exactly how to do that.

Take a peer group and set up a competition system, whether your truck drivers are working individually or within a team. Turn safe driving into a competition and offer prizes to truck drivers who play “the game” the best.

First you want to set up the goals for your safety competition.

Using SMART Goals

One of the most effective goal-setting techniques in the modern corporate world is that of SMART goals. SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Results-focused
  • Time-bound

As one example of how you can use SMART goals to create a better safety paradigm within your fleet is if you want to decrease overall idle time to less than 15 minutes per day. Pick a specific time period and choose your factors. You may want to focus on several goals at a time, and that is fine, but make sure your goals do not overlap or cause confusion. You want your truck drivers to understand and buy-in to the program. It should be more than simple safety window dressing.

Once you have selected your measurable factors and chosen your timeline, you want to establish behavioral patterns you wish to see changed. You can measure behavioral changes through hard baseline data.

Using Data to Reach your Goals

In order to figure out how well your fleet is doing at meeting the goals, it will be important to collect the data and determine a method for analyzing it. You want at least 30 days of control data, regardless of the time frame parameters of your competition. Make sure you do not notify those in the competition pool of the pre-defined parameters so that you don’t tempt them to try and game the system.

Once you have the data collected, use it to determine whether you have set a realistic timeline for the program. Also make sure you are taking outside factors into consideration. If you are trying to set up a competition surrounding idle time, you don’t want to hold bad weather or construction against them within the game.

What Are Your Incentives?

Of course, the only way you will see real results from the program is if there is a winner or group of winners. You could also create specific categories of winners, whether it be “Least Idle Time” or “Most On-Time Deliveries.” With larger groups you may want to have more winners.

Remember, the best way to inventivize real change is to create a realistic program. You could use cash prizes, gift cards, company schwag, more off-hours, or other things you think your truck drivers or employees may find particularly meaningful. Above all, make sure there is a reasonable chance to have a winner every time.

Be Transparent

Transparency is extremely important to ensure you have buy-in for your program. You could place stats or standings in the break room or provide an online portal your truckers can log into to see where they rank.  This helps motivate participants to do better by creating a little open friendly competition among them.

Finally, use the data to provide actionable tips and tricks to your truck drivers. Use the information you find to enhance your overall training endeavors. Whether you use a classroom-type setting, online video, or in-cab prompts, there are many ways you can use the data to increase safety measures.

Of course, in the end, the most important thing is making sure your truck drivers are both safe and happy. Utilizing friendly competition to accomplish these goals is a healthy way to do it.

Do ELD Exemptions And Uneven Enforcement Gut The Rule?

The ELD Mandate, which went into effect on December 18, requires that the majority of interstate commercial truck drivers use ELD devices to ensure they are properly tracking their hours of service so as not to exceed the federal limits. Yet, that majority has been steadily shrinking as exemptions and uneven enforcement potentially neuters the mandate’s effectiveness.

OOIDA Requests A Major Exemption

There are currently many petitions sitting with the FMCSA, from a technical exemption for UPS to petitions from power and communications contractors. Yet, there is one petition that represents a huge question mark in the future and effectiveness of the ELD mandate.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has petitioned the FMCSA to exempt small business trucking companies with operations under $27.5 million in annual revenue. Should this petition be approved, the exemption would in effect exempt 95 percent of all trucking companies.

To be fair, the OOIDA did include some qualifiers in their petition request. One such exemption was for motor carriers who have an unsatisfactory safety rating. The other was that exempt fleets would be required to document and present a proven history of safety performance that includes no at-fault crashes.

Those opposed to this line of reasoning say that there is no specific definition of what constitutes an at-fault crash. With nearly 93 percent of OTR trucking companies currently reporting no DOT-reportable crashes, the number of trucking companies removed from potential exemption is negligible. Should the OOIDA’s request be approved, the number of motor carriers looking at an exemption could stand in the tens of thousands.

While many do not expect the petition to wind up being passed by the FMCSA, it should be noted that 25 members of Congress sent a letter to the FMCSA supporting the petition. On the other side, the Trucking Alliance filed comments opposing the exemption.

What both sides acknowledge is that even if the FMCSA were to approve the petition, the inevitable result would be a trip to court and a legal battle. Why? The ELD Mandate is a Congressional imperative, so any major changes granted by the FMCSA would be subject to lawsuit by either side.

Will the ELD Mandate Have Any Teeth?

With the ELD Mandate suffering under the burden of enforcement issues and constant questions, some wonder if it will have any major impact on trucking safety. Consider that 17 states are waiting for April 1 to begin enforcement, with another 12 allowing the enforcement officer to decide. With the resulting 10 states writing ELD tickets, enforcement has been spotty across the board.

Currently, most of tickets being written are not for specific safety concern but are instead related to either no logs available or spec problems with the device being used. With the ELD enforcement picture so cloudy, is it even possible to determine whether their use is having a positive impact on trucking safety? With the jury still out on the effectiveness of the current HOS rules, no one knows.

Although December was the intended start of enforcement, many operators are waiting until April 1 to get compliant. With enforcement uneven across the board, trucking operators are betting that low enforcement levels will mean they won’t get a ticket, or even if they do, they won’t be put out of service or get a CSA ding. With the incentive to get compliant now taken away, the time between December and January provides a nebulous picture of the mandate’s effectiveness. How this will all play out as trucking advocates and fleets attempt to evaluate crash rates and safety levels is anybody’s guess.

 

New Guidelines Issued For Livestock Haulers

Livestock haulers face a unique set of challenges. It is ever-more important that they are able to operate safely on our nation’s roads and highways. Consider the impact that livestock haulers have in our economy. What we put on our table at night in large part relies on the job they do.

This is why some are wondering whether the new guidelines issues by the FMCSA are better for overall trucking safety and getting livestock from one place to the other or not. So, what changes has the FMCSA made?

Post on the agency’s website on the 24th of February, the new guidelines speak specifically to horse haulers. While the FMCSA stated that their new guidelines were meant to clarify confusion, some believe that there is still some level of confusion and concern.

The Details on the Guidance

It is a well-known secret that horse haulers have skated under the law enforcement’s radar when it comes to staying in conformity with rules and regulations regarding how long a truck driver can stay on the road, as well as the licensing requirements a truck driver must adhere to.

The new guidelines issued by the FMCSA are designed to provide exemptions for ELD and CDL truck drivers who transport horses and other animals to shows and events. The guidelines also cover transportation of non-livestock where events and shows are concerned.

What the FMCSA has done is basically allowed truck drivers who are transporting material for a non-business related reason to avoid HOS, ELD and CDL regulations. The exception here is if the truck driver’s home state has specific requirements surrounding the aforementioned. In those cases, the state rules will trump the federal rules.

Specifically, if a truck driver is transporting material to a show or event with a gross weight exceeding 26,001 pounds, the truck driver or fleet in question must comply with licensing, ELD, and other safety requirements the state has imposed for such forms of transportation.

It Started with Horses

All of this stemmed from the horse industry, which sent representatives to the DOT to find out whether they were exempted or included within current regulations surrounding truck drivers. The ELD Mandate itself sparked a big discussion within the horse hauling business about how their fleets and truck drivers would be treated.

In a letter sent to the DOT, the industry voiced frustration with the lack of clarifications surrounding current rules and regulations. They specifically outline the following as problems they have yet to see resolved:

  • Scope
  • Intent
  • Enforcement
  • Ramifications

What many people may not know is that the equine business has a $122 billion impact on the United States economy. That is a huge number, and highlights the potential influence this sector has on government policy.

The concern within the industry is that although the truck drivers in question do not transport these animals as part of a business, they fear they will be targeted under the current enforcement guidelines.

So many trucking companies involved in this sector have skin in the game and are lobbying hard, that the FMCSA has set up a specific website to address their concerns. Yet, not all of the questions have been answered.

Some are wondering if the FMCSA is circumventing safety regulations to satisfy an industry seeking clarification on specific guidelines. It is still too soon to make that distinction, but the fact remains, the guidelines set in place regarding hours of service and the ELD mandate were meant to apply to all operators of large commercial motor vehicles. Will exempting certain operators cause confusion or undue safety concerns? At this point only time will tell.

Removing The Risk From Trucking

As the trucking employee crunch gets worse by the day, many who are considering entering the profession wonder: Is trucking really safe? Look, we aren’t going to mince words or sugarcoat the matter. The fact is, truck drivers and those in passenger cars do get killed in trucking accidents every year. Trucking is a high-risk profession. Yet, if you operate your vehicle in a safe manner and keep essential safety tips in mind, there is no reason why you shouldn’t hit your million-mile mark without a blemish on your record or an injury on your mind.

There are specific steps professional truck drivers can take to ensure they stay safe on the road each and every day. Let’s go through each step, one-by-one.

Signaling By Sight

When you get to an intersection, are you signalling early to ensure the passenger vehicles around you know which way your truck will be turning well in advance? If not you may not be operating safely.

Slow Down

Are you slowing down before a complete stop is necessary? The last thing you want to do is try to come to a complete stop on a dime in an 80,000 pounds Class 8 commercial motor vehicle. Always remember how much time it takes for your vehicle to come to a complete stop. If you see brake lights ahead, this should be a sign to not take your time.

Avoid Lane Changes

Ask any professional truck driver and they will tell you that they do their best to avoid changing lanes. Since a tractor’s blind spots are so large, unnecessary lane changes present an unnecessary risk. Also, make sure you check your mirrors with a cursory glance on a regular basis (perhaps 10 – 15 seconds).

Lights and Flashers

When going through pre- or post-trip inspections, make sure you always check your headlights brake lights, and turn signals. This is the best way to avoid accidents. In situations where you have to drive slower than the posted speed limit, make sure to use your flashers to alert those on the road around you why you are driving slower than normal.

Parking Your Vehicle

When you are getting ready to park your vehicle, make sure you are aware of where your vehicle has room and clearance to park. There are generally specific garages set aside for commercial motor vehicles. Make sure you are never parked on the side of a roadway unless your tractor is disabled. And always do your best to never obstruct a motorist’s view of oncoming traffic, no matter where you are parked. Finally, NEVER park in oncoming traffic. If required, use flares or safety triangles to alert other drivers that your vehicle has been disabled.

Idling Your Vehicle

Always remember that idling your vehicle for more than five minutes represents an unnecessary waste of fuel. Whether you are sleeping. loading, unloading, or otherwise, make sure your vehicle is turned off. If you do need to idle for any reason, make sure your windows are closed. You can even wear a safety mask if necessary.

OTR Operation

If you are a long-haul trucker, there are extra safety rules to keep in mind. Although you can spend many hours on the road, make sure to avoid tailgating. Don’t let frustration creep in and cause a safety incident. If you are experiencing fatigue, make sure to stop, no matter what. And since you will be sitting for long periods of time, do not hesitate to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing.

In the end, make sue you are keeping these principles in mind, and you will be sure to operate safely, year-after-year!

 

Is Platooning Really Safe?

Some are asking the critical question: Is it really safe for two Class 8 heavy duty commercial motor vehicles to tailgate one another? Many states across the country – and even globally – are currently weighing this very question. The emergence of platooning technology has ignited a safety debate where the questions remain elusive.

Companies pushing platooning technologies contend that the emergence of technologies that couple with vehicle-to-vehicle communications would allow digitally connected vehicles to follow each other at a close distance without any safety problems. This digital linking of trucks would allow the truck drivers to – not literally – take a back seat. Trucks would both accelerate and brake together.

Platooning Has Advantages

Platooning does save on fuel in many cases. It does this through a process called “slipstreaming,” which allows a vehicle to ride the wake of the vehicle immediately in front of it. Some say that when a truck rides the wake of a vehicle in front of it, fuel savings can amount to up to 10 percent. When you add those numbers up across the industry, you are looking at savings that add up to lots of money.

According to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), 72 percent of fatalities involving a large commercial motor vehicle happened when the truck hit another passenger car. Platooning proponents contend that the technologies built into platooning systems may go a long way to reducing those numbers.

They say that the real-time data gathering techniques and near-instantaneous reactions made by the technology installed on the truck can respond even quicker than a human can. There are generally cameras and sensors placed around the vehicle. Others say it is this very technology that could prove dangerous.

Platooning Has Disadvantages

Safety advocates wonder if platooning tractor-trailers is really safe. When discussing the technologies that are used in platooning, they are generally connected through a GPS, cellular, or strong WiFi connection. What if there is a disruption in the connection during a critical safety event?

Another question surrounds what the optimal distance between each vehicle should be. If the optimal distance is too close, would that make platooning inherently unsafe? Seconds count when it comes to following too closely, and if a large commercial motor vehicle is following too closely, might a machine be able to make a decision fast enough? There are two sides to the argument.

Platooning is Coming

No matter what safety advocates or platooning companies or fleets think about the issue, it is already being tested and is likely to appear on a road near you sometime within the next decade. All the talk is on semi-autonomous trucks, and platooning is simply an extension of this technology. Allowing a machine or series of sensors connected to a central computing unit to control a heavy-duty commercial motor vehicle is a lot closer than one may think.

Fortunately, there will always be a place for a truck driver in the cab. Even if trucks are platooned, there is no guarantee that their reaction time will be enough, so a human hand will always be desired. Of course, the overall goal is to lower the number of those injured or killed on our nation’s roads, and if platooning can get that done, then many say, why not give it a try?

A lot more testing still needs to be done, and many states are hard at it. In the end, whether or not we will see platooning blossom, and in what form, will depend on the platooning tests currently underway in several states. As companies and municipalities team up to test the viability of these technologies, expect to hear a lot more about how safe or unsafe platooning is.