Truck platooning has the potential to change the face of road haulage.
Linking a number of lorries equipped with advanced technology in a convoy, or ‘road train’, platooning can offer a wide range of benefits in the areas of safety, traffic flow, efficiency, economy and CO2 emissions.
The driver of the lead vehicle in the convoy sets the speed and the route, while the other trucks follow, connected using WI-FI, sensors, GPS and cameras.
A system called Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC) is used which is more advanced than Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) – already available in a variety of vehicles.
If platooning is given the go-ahead and becomes commonplace on our roads, it’s initially meant to aid drivers, not replace them. But, in the future with advances in autonomous technology, this may change. We look at some of the impacts platooning could have on your fleet drivers.
At this stage, platooning is undergoing trials. In March 2017 Volvo Trucks completed a successful demonstration of a partially automated truck platoon in California, from the Port of Los Angeles along Interstate 110.
In April 2016, a convoy of 12 adapted trucks from six manufacturers, including Volvo, Daimler and Scania, travelled across Europe from Gothenburg to Rotterdam in the EU Truck Platooning Challenge.
Truck platooning will also be used for distribution work in Germany as part of a trial from spring 2018, in a partnership deal signed by truck-maker MAN and operator DB Schenker.
The drivers will be trained in how to operate the vehicles and adapt to the special driving techniques. The trial aims to understand the impact platooning will have on HGV drivers and their acceptance of this new technology.
In the long term, self-driving trucks will allow drivers to rest or get on with other tasks while the vehicle is in motion.
It’s clear that drivers will also need new skills, possibly in engineering and IT, to be able to pilot these “smart trucks”.
Just as drivers are required to maintain their driving skills, in the future there’s likely to be more of an emphasis on teaching a low-emission, economical driving style through theoretical classes and on-the-road training.
For instance, SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) estimates that fuel savings of 2-8% for the lead truck and 8-13% for the following vehicles are possible as aerodynamic drag is reduced the closer the trucks travel.
Platooning could increase driver productivity without violating the regulations around driver resting times. Experts believe one driver might be able to rest while the platoon leader controls the convoy, with the other drivers then taking turns to lead the platoon. This means the convoy can travel for greater distances without stopping. Again, skills like this will require training.
Impact on drivers
Drivers who are travelling in a platoon will be more reliant on in-vehicle technology which should reduce stress levels and so improve safety.
However, the level of risk for a driver might increase when it’s time to join or leave a platoon.
So, although it’s likely that there will be significant safety benefits, existing motorway hazards will still need to be managed and mitigated against.
One thing is for sure, experts believe that even when autonomous vehicles have become the norm, drivers will still be needed for last-mile deliveries.
Interestingly, fleet owners and managers will also have to be educated to think differently because platooning works best with more trucks, which means co-operation to form inter-company platoons.
The International Transport Forum (ITF) is to investigate the future for lorry drivers, and how their roles in the industry will evolve as vehicles become more independent.
In conjunction with the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), the International Road Transport Union and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, the ITF has published a report – Managing the Transition to Driverless Freight Transport – explaining how and what governments need to do to make the change as straightforward as possible.