Both drivers steer in this test of a platooning system in the western U.S. In the Tesla car crash, the autopilot was in full control – though the driver should've intervened. Photo: Peloton Technology

Both drivers steer in this test of a platooning system in the western U.S. In the Tesla car crash, the autopilot was in full control – though the driver should've intervened. Photo: Peloton Technology

Missouri's governor confused self-driving systems in automobiles with platooning for commercial trucks, and his veto of a bill that would have allowed testing in the state was a mistake, a consultant involved in development of the technology told HDT. 

"They're completely different," said Richard Bishop of the car and truck systems. Those for heavy trucks are not nearly automated as the beta-testing "autopilot" system that allowed a Tesla model S to run under a semi-trailer that was turning in front of the fast-moving sedan, killing its driver.

Goverson Jeremiah W. Nixon cited the Tesla accident in May (story here) as one reason he vetoed HB1733, a bill that would have established a pilot program for testing long-haul trucks using platooning systems (story here). Such testing is allowed under laws recently approved in California and Nevada, among other places.

Bishop, who is working with companies developing new capabilities for truck operation, said he was "disappointed" in the governor's action. He is chairman of a Technology & Maintenance Council task force on automated driving and platooning, but emphasized that he is speaking for himself, not TMC.

"First generation truck platooning systems are not automated," Bishop said in an email. "The system only controls the pedals and leaves the steering and monitoring of the road to the drivers of the two connected trucks. Autopilot systems, such as Tesla’s, automate steering, braking, and acceleration, allowing drivers to disengage from driving — hands-off, feet-off, and eyes-off.

"There are legitimate safety questions about autopilots and driver responsibility, but these questions don't apply to truck platooning. While platooning, the driver experience is basically the same as with today’s adaptive cruise control systems, but at inter-vehicle distances of 50-100 feet.

"Since platooning builds on commercially available collision mitigation systems, platoon-enabled trucks will likely be safer than most other trucks on the road, even when not platooning," Bishop said. "Somehow the governor missed these key points and, in my opinion, has taken a step backwards with regard to truck safety."

The TMC task force has published reports on platooning and automated driving that are posted on Trucking.org, the website of American Trucking Associations, TMC's parent.    

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