The “platooning” pucker factor

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If you haven’t heard about the concept of “platooning” yet, let me just say that the whole thing freaks me out more than a little bit.

The short version of “platooning” goes like this: basically, a commercial truck serves as the head of a “platoon” of cars out on the highway and literally takes control of them while they are part of this usual convoy.

“Take control,” by the way, means just that: electronics connect the cars to the commercial truck, which then measures distance, speed and direction for all of them. In sum, the drivers of the cars literally surrender operation of their vehicles to the truck and its driver.

Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? Well it does to me, anyway.

My esteemed colleague Brian Straight wrote about the ongoing efforts to test “platooning” in Europe in a story last year by the Safe Road Trains for the Environment or “SARTRE” project. Now that research is being put to the test in the real world.

Tom Robinson, the SARTRE project coordinator, noted recently that “platooning” offers the potential for improved road safety, better road space utilization, improved driver comfort on long journeys as well as reduced fuel consumption and hence fewer carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Indeed, some of the experts quoted in the video above believe “platooning” will reduce occurrences of driver error on the roadway, which often lead to crashes.

Me? I’m not sure I could handle it – literally taking my hands off the wheel of a vehicle traveling at high speed. Of course, I ride as a passenger all the time, entrusting the driver to operate the vehicle I’m in safely. It would really be no different, in a way, to surrender that control to the lead vehicle in a highway “platoon.”

I don’t know – the whole thing still makes me nervous. I’ll just have to see how the road testing of the “platooning” technology progresses. 

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