Platooning could be game-changer for road transport CO2 emissions

Written by Wim van de Camp on 23 February 2016 in Opinion

Linking truck convoys into platoons may be the opportunity to turn intelligent transport systems from theory to practice, argues Wim van de Camp.

ITS have been part of the transport policy debate for many years. We are now at the point where ITS transcends transport policy into the Internet of Things and other policy areas. Making this possible will require a cross-sectoral approach to policymaking.

The ground-breaking application for ITS is known as platooning. Platooning digitally hooks trucks together into a tightly controlled convoy. This works by using sensors or a radio connection to ensure every truck drives the same speed as the lead vehicle.

By reducing overall wind resistance, this can save up to five per cent in fuel for the lead vehicle, around 10 per cent for the vehicles behind. EU truck manufacturers have tested platooning and have built up considerable expertise.


Platooning is attractive from both a policy and a private sector perspective. It will save fuel for operators, while the reduction in CO2 emissions offers a compelling public policy case.

In addition, platooning can help absorb the so-called traffic shock waves that cause congestion. The EU automotive industry is already strong in this field, providing platooning with an EU industry policy case.

Platooning involves trucks driving in cruise control mode, with vehicle separation automatically regulated, acting a cooperative. Were private vehicles to interact in the same way, the potential for accidents and congestion would be significantly reduced.

Here infrastructure becomes part of the equation, although road operators do not develop technology, they are key players; analysis of vehicle data allows improved road safety through managing traffic.

The long-term end goal is the automated or self-driving car. This technology is already being tested in large-scale EU pilot schemes in several EU member states, including in the Netherlands.

EU automotive manufacturers are preparing deployment and are cooperating closely with the Commission and other relevant stakeholders. In the US, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has announced that technology will be deployed as soon as possible.

The US department of transport believes it could help avoid up to 80 per cent of accidents. Vehicle to vehicle communication is currently under consideration for US vehicle type approval.

The key to moving from demonstration to deployment is policymaking. Cooperative ITS and platoons need to be safeguarded against hacking and data misuse. They will need an EU-wide level of security.

How is this best achieved? In addition, platoons will work across borders; requiring EU-wide agreement on the distance between the trucks. How do platoons work with drive and rest times?

Platoons are an example of machine-to-machine communication, so they are a part of the Internet of Things.

Parliamentary committees and Commission DGs could be the catalyst at institutional level, stimulating dialogue and shaping the debates around ITS.

ITS is ready to make the transition from the realm of technical standards into the policy debate. The Dutch EU Council presidency will be one of the first to address ITS in the political context. Something is developing here and platooning could be the starting point.


About the author

Wim van de Camp (EPP, NL) is a member of Parliament's transport and tourism committee

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