Four more states adopt rule changes to accommodate truck platoons

April 5, 2018

Keith Goble

|

Authority to test driver-assistive truck platooning technology on highways is a trending topic at statehouses from Pennsylvania to Oregon. The concept uses a lead truck to control the speed and braking of following trucks.

Advocates say truck platooning will save fuel because of 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 the 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 at least nine states have taken action to permit testing of autonomous trucks. The rule changes often require amendments to vehicle following distance rules.

The first state to act was Utah. The Beehive State has since permitted multiple companies to test their vehicles on state roads.

Gov. Gary Herbert has signed into law a follow-up bill to exempt connected trucks from the state’s two-second rule for safe following distance.

Exemptions have only been permitted for funeral processions and traffic traveling below 35 mph.
Previously SB56, the new law updates the state’s following-to-closely rule.

Other states in recent weeks to enact laws on truck platoons include the following.

Alabama
A new law permits truck platooning by amending statute that covers following distances.

State law has limited following distances for large trucks at a minimum of 300 feet.

The rule change is intended to provide research for truck platooning technology. SB125 authorizes platooning vehicles to follow at distances “that are closer than would be reasonable and prudent without the electronic coordination.”

Indiana
State law prohibits trucks from following other trucks closer than 300 feet.

A new law signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb includes a provision to exempt truck platoons from the rule. Also included in HB1290 is a repeal of the state’s motor carrier surcharge tax and a corresponding 21-cent increase in the state’s diesel tax rate.

Kentucky
Gov. Matt Bevin signed into law a rule that could soon result in platooning trucks on Kentucky highways.

State law has prohibited large trucks from traveling within 250 feet of another large truck.

The new law exempts electronically connected trucks from the FTC rule. SB116 limits the rule to apply to two trucks.

Operators in each vehicle would be required to hold a valid CDL and to be behind the wheel.

Affected vehicles also must display a marking to warn other drivers and law enforcement that the vehicle is part of a platoon. Carriers would also be required to submit for approval a platooning plan to the State Police.

Below are recent actions on the topic that are still winding their way through statehouses around the country.

Illinois
No minimum distance for large trucks is listed in state law. Instead, statute covers a “reasonable and prudent distance.” Trucks following another truck are required to leave sufficient space so that an overtaking vehicle may enter and occupy such space without danger.”

One House bill, HB4654, would exempt platooning trucks from the rule.

Louisiana
The House voted unanimously on Tuesday, April 3, to advance a bill that would revise state law that covers the minimum requirements for vehicle following distances. It has moved to the Senate.

Louisiana law states that “a driver shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent.” Specific to trucking, the rule defines the distance as within 400 feet on a highway.

Sponsored by Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, HB308 would permit platooning trucks to travel within the restricted distance between vehicles.

Addressing concerns on the chamber floor about what would happen if a vehicle merges in front of a platoon vehicle, Havard assured legislators the system is set up to disengage – much like cruise control – if the driver taps on the brake.

A change made to the bill in committee would not apply the new rule to platoons operating on a two-lane highway.

The bill awaits further consideration in the Senate Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee.

Mississippi
State lawmakers have voted to advance to the governor’s desk a bill that covers following distances rules.

State law specifies that large trucks are not allowed to follow another large truck within 300 feet.

HB1343 would exempt platooning vehicles from the distance minimum while traveling on divided multilane highways in each direction. Platoons would be limited to two trucks.

“This is Mississippi’s very first step into the realm of autonomous vehicles,” Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, told lawmakers while speaking on the House floor.

He explained that the bill would allow for trucks to be linked electronically as they travel through the state.

“There would be drivers in each truck. I want to clear that up, but they would be allowed to follow each other more closely than current law allows.”

The state Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety would be required to approve any plans for platooning operations.

Missouri
One Senate bill would authorize driver-assistive technology on state highways.

SB861 would set up a six-year pilot program to permit testing truck platoons of up to two vehicles.

State law prohibits truck and bus drivers from following another such vehicle within 300 feet.

The bill would permit platooning trucks to travel with less than 50 feet separation.

Supporters say platooning vehicles would be required to have someone behind the wheel.

Opponents say that a federal law and uniform law should probably regulate new technologies such as platooning. They add that an insurance requirement should be imposed on the software provider as well as trucking companies.

The Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee has approved the bill. It awaits further consideration in the chamber.

Oregon
One bill on the governor’s desk covers following distances.

Oregon law states that large trucks following another truck while traveling outside of a business or residential district, or upon a freeway must leave “sufficient space so that an overtaking vehicle may enter and occupy the space without danger.”

HB4059 would exempt from the rule vehicles with connected automated braking systems.

A second bill sent to the governor would create a task force on autonomous vehicles. HB4063 would setup a 31-member group with officials representing groups that include the Oregon Trucking Association to develop recommendations for legislation about the issue. The group would submit a report to the Legislature this fall.

Pennsylvania
One bill halfway through the statehouse would authorize the Pennsylvania DOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to use driverless trucks in roadway work zones.

Sponsored by Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, HB1958 would permit affected vehicles to operate in violation of the state’s following distance rule for large vehicles. The rule would apply for up to three vehicles while working on limited access highways or interstates.

“I think we are seeing more and more that automated vehicles will play an expanded role in the construction industry,” Rothman said. “I want Pennsylvania to be a leader in this area by ensuring we have a law in place to address this issue.”

Autonomous military vehicles would also be allowed to travel in groups. The platoon vehicles, however, would be required to have a person behind the wheel.

The bill is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

The Senate version, SB1096, is also in the committee.

Wisconsin
The Legislature has approved a bill to revise statute that covers traveling distance between large vehicles.

State law prohibits motor vehicles from following others “more closely than is reasonable and prudent” under circumstances. Large trucks in excess of 10,000 pounds must also keep at least 500 feet behind them and other vehicles.

SB695 would exempt trailing vehicles in platoons from the following distance minimum.

Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, testified during a previous committee hearing that trucks can experience significant fuel efficiencies through the use of “drafting.”

“The problem is that effective drafting often requires trucks to follow each other more closely than 500 feet,” Rohrkaste said.

He assured legislators that platooning drivers would continue to have “ultimate control over their individual vehicles, including steering.”

The bill’s next stop is the governor’s desk.

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.