FHWA has been testing truck platooning for nearly six years now, but this particular project has been underway for the last four. The primary goal of FHWA’s platooning research is to see if this technology can increase “highway throughput,” meaning allow more vehicles to use existing roadway capacity. A secondary focus is improving fuel efficiency for platooning trucks, thereby providing motor carriers with a return on investment for adopting and using this technology.
FHWA calls the main technological component of truck platooning Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC) technology. CACC adds vehicle-to-vehicle communications to the adaptive cruise control capability now available in new vehicles. This connectivity allows trucks to operate more smoothly as a unit, reducing and controlling the gaps between vehicles. The technology actually can keep tractor-trailers a distance of 0.7 seconds apart but extensive testing with commercial truck drivers found 1.2 seconds to be a more acceptable distance.
FHWA’s platooning research is part of a broader DOT effort that is “focused on collecting and sharing the best ideas and approaches to developing and testing automated vehicle technologies and to ensure that no requirements or regulatory hurdles exist or are introduced that could delay these vehicle safety advances,” according to recent comments by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
“These new technologies have the ability to increase capacity on our highways and make freight transportation more efficient,” noted Brandye Hendrickson, FHWA’s acting administrator, in a statement provided separately from the platooning event. “With innovations like these, we can get more out of the highway system we already have, relieve traffic congestion, and reduce costs to the freight industry.”
FHWA referred to these test trucks as “partially automated” and stressed that the technology that makes truck platooning possible is meant to supplement, not replace, commercial motor vehicle operators. Yet since the volume of freight moved annually by trucks on America’s roads is expected to more than double over the next 25 years, FHWA is looking to truck platooning to help “dramatically” enhance highway mobility for commercial vehicles; the most commonly used mode for freight shipping, moving 63% of total tonnage transported in the U.S.
“The future of innovative new technology to help our drivers navigate the road more safely is so full of promise; it’s a future where vehicles increasingly help drivers avoid crashes,” Noted transportation Secretary Chao in a statement separate from the platooning event. “As technology advances, safety is a primary concern of DOT, but the benefits of these driving technologies extend beyond safety, including productivity and efficiency on our roads.”
Michael Trentacoste, FHWA's associate administrator for research, development and technology, that the ongoing phases of truck platooning testing are focused on assessing the safety performance of the technology and observing how passenger vehicles react to truck platoons. He noted other platooning projects ar working with two-truck platoons, while others involving passenger cars are platooning up to five vehicles.
While various aspects of truck platooning have been studied for years, FHWA’s Exploratory Advance Research program has taken testing to new levels with the addition of Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC) technology. CACC adds vehicle-to-vehicle communications to the adaptive cruise control capability now available in new vehicles. This connectivity allows trucks to operate more smoothly as a unit, reducing and controlling the gaps between vehicles while improving fuel economy at the same time.