Letters: Platooning, Apnea Studies, Fatigue

These letters appears in the April 4 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Wrong Conclusions On Truck Platooning

(Editor’s Note: The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the Technology & Maintenance Council.)

A recent letter to Transport Topics noted several concerns regarding truck platooning, linking the recent low-speed Google driverless car crash to potential outcomes with truck platooning. The writer raises some valid points but also has several misconceptions I’d like to address.

First of all, because platooning is not automated driving, drawing conclusions from Google’s experience doesn’t hold water. Truck platooning is a form of adaptive cruise control, already in use in large numbers by many fleets. Platooning systems use a secure, encrypted wireless connection between two trucks to synchronize braking and acceleration, reducing the safe following distance and thereby gaining fuel-economy benefits due to drafting effects. The aim of the system is to assist drivers; they remain engaged in driving. As with today’s ACC, the driver steers and supervises the road situation while the brakes and throttle are controlled automatically. Over the next few years, highly automated systems may come to market, which could operate in combination with platooning.

Following distances for platooning systems coming to market soon are expected to be in the range of 50 feet up to 100 feet, allowing room for drivers to see the road between them and the front truck. Some systems also share real-time video from the front to the back truck, improving driver situational awareness over conditions today when trucks are frequently in long chains and unable to see past each other.

In 2014, American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council established the Automated Driving and Platooning Task Force within its Future Truck program. The task force set out to understand the opportunities as well as the challenges posed by use of Driver Assistive Truck Platooning, or DATP, including operations, safety, maintenance and driver training and acceptance.

With the help of fleet and safety professionals volunteering their time, we completed a thorough examination of these issues, which TMC has now published as TMC IR 2015-2, Automated Driving & Platooning: Issues & Opportunities and TMC Future Truck Position Paper 2015-03: Recommendations Regarding Automated Driving and Platooning Systems.

These documents bring the “voice of the user” to guide technology developers of DATP. The IR document emphasizes that DATP platooning systems should be developed to the highest vehicle safety standards, ensuring they respond safely in all conditions, such as hard braking across a range of weights and conditions, and in the event of a vehicle cut-in.

Ideally, since state-of-the-art collision avoidance systems underpin platooning systems, DATP may provide a net safety improvement.

As the letter writer noted, while platooning drivers are asked to operate at intervehicle distances that are foreign to their normal operation (and training) and the task force addressed this in the published documents, maintaining it is essential that driving while platooning be approached with appropriate understanding and new training protocols.

Further, when switching between equipped and nonequipped vehicles, drivers must return to using normal longer headways. The task force is calling for system developers to work closely with fleets and drivers to design systems that are intuitive, emphasize proactive driver control and engagement and do not significantly change the overall driving experience. More broadly, the task force seeks the best standards and practices for automation and platooning technologies to apply in trucking systems.

Contrary to assertions by the author of the letter, active safety systems in general are designed not to “dumb down” the driving experience but to be there for the driver in worst-case scenarios always, without becoming tired or distracted. Technology always can be used in good or bad ways. Drivers are professionals who can and will learn to use technology well — just like any other professional — to create safer outcomes.

Richard Bishop


TMC Future Truck Automated Driving and Platooning Task Force

Bishop Consulting

Sleep Apnea Studies Deserve Praise

This concerns David Elfin’s story on sleep apnea.

The research done by two universities not only clearly establishes a sleep apnea-induced crash risk among U.S. commercial vehicle operators, it did so using actual crash data rather than driving simulation or other means.

The research even went further and analyzed preventable crash data, something the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hasn’t done with its Compliance, Safety, Accountability scoring program.

This study has been needed for years. I will be looking for future research from these authors.

Bob Stanton


Truckers for a Cause

How to Fight Driver Fatigue

I have been involved in trucking transportation since 1993 and have witnessed the emergence of a cottage industry — research into truck-driver fatigue.

That’s 23 years of research. And now, researchers from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine propose yet another expert study. In the interim, The New York Times published the following: “More than 30,000 people die on U.S. highways annually; crashes involving large trucks are responsible for one in seven of those deaths.”

Do the math: 23 years times 30,000 fatalities divided by 7 equals 98,571 people dead while researchers collect grant money and data, eventually publish reports and add credits to their résumés. It’s a data drip, drip, drip.

There’s an old saying: “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” In this case, it’s an entire industry fiddling around while way too many (one is too many) lives are lost. If the proposed NASEM “remedy study” takes even 12 months, nearly another 4,300 lives will be lost.

Industry leaders with a modicum of conscience should get it in gear. The cost of human life is too high to wait around. Be proactive. Read a little book, “Safety 24/7.” Install fatigue alarms in cabs. Give drivers bonuses for taking care of themselves. Someone should be accountable — and the clock is ticking.

Alice Adams


Alice Adams Communications

Austin, Texas