In recent years, there’s been a lot of excitement in the fleet industry about platooning and its potential benefits for firms in the sector. It is widely anticipated that this innovation could drastically boost efficiency, improve customer service and deliver significant reductions in fleet overheads. There has, however, been some scepticism too, with questions raised about the likely safety of platooning vehicles.
In August, the government officially gave the go-ahead for the first trials of semi-automated lorries on British motorways. Under the terms of the trial, convoys of up to three vehicles – with acceleration and braking controlled by the driver of the lead vehicle – will be allowed to travel in train along motorway routes. It isn’t yet clear where these trials will be taking place, but they are expected to happen before the end of 2018.
Platooning – what is it?
As we’ve already touched upon, platooning allows a number of trucks (usually three) to travel in convoy with one another. The most obvious advantage of this is that it allows the trucks to trail the one ahead of them more closely at a constant speed, thereby increasing mileage through reduced wind resistance and hence lowering fuel usage. The reduced distance between vehicles also means they take up less space on the road.
Platooning has been trialled in both the US and Europe, but the forthcoming set of tests will mark the first time it has been done on British roads. While the safety of platooning has been called into question, there are in fact good reasons to believe it could enhance road safety rather than undermining it. With platooning, for instance, braking of connected vehicles is automatic with minimal delay time and this takes driver error out of the equation as each of the connected vehicles will apply the brakes in tandem with the vehicle leading the convoy.
What broader impact could platooning have?
Platooning could potentially have highly positive repercussions for other road users. It allows for greater predictability of truck driving on the road, which means that other drivers and passengers should be at less risk of being involved in accidents with them. This is often overlooked in the debate about platooning and safety, but it is a crucial point – and it’s worth remembering that driver error accounts for the overwhelming majority of road traffic accidents. Greater automation could therefore reduce this risk.
We’ve already mentioned that platooning could help cut fuel costs through lower wind resistance while fleets are driving – and it could also cut congestion by enabling firms to deliver goods faster and by generally facilitating a more efficient flow of goods. This could prove particularly effective in conjunction with established technologies, such as vehicle telematics.
Fleets: bracing for change
According to Teletrac Navman’s own 2017 Telematics Benchmark Report, 67 per cent of businesses which adopted telematics reported a reduction in fuel costs. Furthermore, nearly one-third of those fleet operators surveyed said they had seen a decline in road accidents involving their vehicles as a result of fleet telematics. Just under half – 45 per cent – of respondents cited improved driver productivity and efficiency as the main benefit of GPS telematics.
Those surveyed were also asked about the most pressing infrastructure issues they were faced with. Some two-thirds of them named traffic congestion as their biggest infrastructure-related concern – but in conjunction with this, the study also revealed that 52 per cent of respondents are planning to increase the size of their fleets over the next year.
This suggests that action is now required to help improve the risk of congestion as well as lowering fuel costs. It would seem more pertinent than ever to consider adopting established, proven technologies such as telematics systems, as well as innovations like platooning in the future. With fleets embracing such technology, they could reap significant rewards in terms of both productivity and the bottom line.
Teletrac Navman, Innovation Centre, Keele University Science Park, Staffordshire, ST5 5NH
Tel (0345) 521 1188 www.teletracnavman.co.uk