SC Bill Advances to Allow Trucks to “Platoon”

COLUMBIA, S.C.  – A South Carolina House subcommittee unanimously passed a bill Tuesday afternoon to allow trucks to follow each other much closer than they’re allowed to now, a process known as “platooning.” The bill would apply only to trucks with new technology that links them to the trucks they’re following.

The new technology includes cameras, radar, and lasers, as well as the ability to link trucks’ accelerators and brakes. That way, if the technology on the lead truck spots a problem ahead, all the trucks would slow down or brake without the drivers having to take action.

Following closer improves fuel efficiency, with proponents saying the technology could save up to 8 billion gallons of diesel a year nationwide when fully implemented.

But Rep. Garry Smith, R-Simpsonville, the sponsor of the bill, says it will also save lives. “It looks beyond the truck, looks beyond the car. It can see things that are taking place up ahead of those vehicles and make appropriate adjustments for what’s taking place up ahead. They estimate that it’s going to be a tremendous saving of lives, both in the automotive as well as the trucking industry,” he says.

Rick Todd, president of the South Carolina Trucking Association, says the technology is similar to what’s being used in driverless cars. “Only the larger, more sophisticated fleets are looking at this right now, but it is coming. It’s not driverless trucks, it’s driver assistance, and it can be interrupted and then re-engaged.”

The bill simply adds an exception for trucks with the technology to the current state law that prohibits following too closely. “As technology advances, we also have to kind of bring our codes up to par with that,” said Rep. Joshua Putnam, R-Piedmont, chairman of the subcommittee.

The bill now goes to the full House Education and Public Works Committee.