Human error is responsible for more than 90% of traffic accidents. With trucking, driver reaction and concentration are the critical risk factors. Truck platooning and the combination of wifi, radar and camera systems is expected to reduce the number of traffic accidents. To take an example: if the first truck in a platoon brakes, all the following trucks will also brake in real time and at the same level; the reaction gap in the systems is almost zero. The role of the driver differs between manufacturers, although they all require that the driver steers.
Not a robot
The platoon determines its own speed and the distance between trucks. The driver maintains control over his own truck at all times: he can always take the decision to leave the platoon and continue independently. Trucks in a platoon are not subject to “robot” control.
Enhanced traffic flows
The gap between platooning trucks is shorter and they drive at a constant speed. Accelerating and braking are also synchronised. And platooning trucks do not overtake one another. Findings from traffic models show that truck platooning will boost traffic flows and reduce accident levels - all of which should cut congestion and increase safety for other road users.
In order to formulate a safety assessment on the participants in the European Truck Platooning Challenge, the RDW (Netherlands Vehicle Authority) is required, by law, to test these platoons and where possible to grant an exemption. To this end the RDW has had close contact with all the truck manufacturers involved and has developed a mandatory test for all participants. Based on test results, the decision of road authorities and recommendations around behaviour from parties including SWOV (Institute for Road Safety Research), the RDW can grant exemptions subject to prerequisites and provisos. An exemption means that platoons can drive on the public road and all participants in the Challenge have been granted such an exemption.
The long-standing duties of the RDW technical inspectors include testing and admission of heavy goods vehicles; the RDW is an authority in this area. The inspectors check that the extensive driver support systems fitted on the trucks, can indeed be used safely out on the road and will not result in unpredictable driving behaviour.
What does testing involve? The inspectors start by checking-out the information received from the manufacturers; this would include descriptions of the systems added-on, the route to be driven, a safety analysis, information on the trucks, the drivers and their insurance. The inspectors examine the risk analyses provided by the manufacturers and carry out an EMC test (electro-magnetic compatibility). This information then forms the basis for a test plan.
Every possible situation
Testing covers every possible situation that could occur on the public road. This could include forming or breaking-up a platoon, merging (in and out) of other road users, a car caught in between two platooning trucks, and loss of signal for camera, GPS, radar or wifi.
RDW can conduct testing on site at the manufacturers, or at its own test centre at Lelystad. If all the documentation and test results submitted are given a “pass”, the RDW gives the green light for the truck platoons to go out on the public road.
Safety during the Challenge
The exemption granted by the RDW does not require supervision of the truck platoons during the Challenge. This means that the platoons are not escorted separately, as is the case with occasional exceptional transport. But vehicles with Rijkswaterstaat road inspectors will be on the spot to assist in the event of serious accidents.
Platooning trucks must keep to the right. Platooning is not allowed in the event of poor visibility (<200 metres) and slippery roads. If this is the case the truckers drive individually. The same applies to moving sideways, pre-sorting, or for possible diversions. Every country crossed by the vehicles has its own set of regulations for admission to, and use of the public road. This may mean differing intervals. The European Truck Platooning Challenge needs to be seen as the first step in mutual awareness of each other’s rules. Looking ahead, this mutual awareness could lead to harmonisation and standardisation at a European and global level. This will allow platoons to drive cross-border without additional testing and special conditions.