S.D. transportation secretary answers questions about trucking-rules proposals

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state Transportation Commission plans a public hearing later this month on several proposed sets of rules that would significantly change trucking regulations on South Dakota highways.

One would open many more miles to what are officially known as longer combination vehicles to move goods. The second set would allow, for the first time in South Dakota, truckers to operate in platoons on interstate highways. The proposed changes in each are underlined.

State Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist answered questions from KELOLAND Capitol News Bureau reporter Bob Mercer about the proposals.

Regarding the longer combination vehicles, the proposal appears to call for adding hundreds of miles of routes to those currently approved. Is that statement accurate? 

A. Yes. Federal legislation, known as the FAST Act, included a provision, due to the efforts of Senator Thune, that enabled South Dakota to expand its longer combination vehicle — LCV — network, so long as those expansions result in increased safety performance.

Because the LCV network definition in every state is written into federal code since 1991, expansion required federal rulemaking. Working with industry and Motor Carrier Services, the South Dakota Department of Transportation identified routes that would be both beneficial and acceptable in terms of highway geometrics, traffic and safety.

The department proposed the expansions to the Federal Highway Administration. FHWA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking and went through the lengthy federal rulemaking process. The new federal rules, allowing the expansion of LCV routes, were adopted and became effective in September 2019.

The last remaining step is to make parallel changes to expand the definition of the LCV network in the State of South Dakota’s rules, found in ARSD 70:03:01:65. The proposed change to this rule is the last step in this lengthy process.

Again, regarding LCVs, could I get a map that shows the current approved routes and the proposed additional routes?

Regarding platooning, my understanding of the proposal is there would be one driver and two trucks. Is that statement accurate?

A. No. Each truck would have a human operator as required by current law. But you are correct that a platoon would consist of no more than two vehicles traveling at electronically coordinated speeds and distances.

When the vehicles are in platoon mode, the electronic systems in each vehicle interact with each other to regulate distances and speeds, including slowing and stopping. Platooning is an operating mode, akin to cruise control, that would be available to the human operator through the use of an electronic connection between the two vehicles. Nothing in the rules allows driverless vehicles.

Again, regarding platooning, my understanding of the proposal is the practice would be limited to interstates. Is that statement accurate?

A. Yes.

And would those interstates include I-229 at Sioux Falls and I-190 at Rapid City?

A. Yes.

Again, regarding platooning, do any other states currently permit the activity?

A. Yes.

I searched the internet and found articles about experiments by companies, but I couldn’t tell whether the companies were practicing for research purposes or the activities were actually permitted.

A. Several articles that have come to our attention concerning the allowance of platooning in other states are:

“States Open Highways to Truck Platooning Technology” dated April 11, 2019, by Bill Kramer and published by the Multistate Insider at its website;

“Autonomous Vehicles – Self-driving Vehicles Enacting Legislation” dated March 19, 2019, and published by the National Conference of State Legislatures on its website; and

“Seven More States Adopt Rule Changes for Truck Platoons” dated May 1, 2018, by Keith Goble, and published by Land Line Magazine on its website. 

How will the proposed rules potentially change traffic patterns in South Dakota? For example, in a platooning situation, the new law allows the two trucks to be closer together than is otherwise required by South Dakota law.

A. Correct. As you have indicated, the rules allow the second vehicle in the platoon to travel closer than would otherwise be allowed under SDCL 32-26-40 to 32-26-42, inclusive.

Platooning seems like a potentially newsworthy change that news organizations and the general public missed during the 2019 session. 

A. It is a newsworthy item. We anticipate platooning vehicles will experience fuel savings. One estimate suggests that the first vehicle in a platoon may experience a five percent fuel savings, and the second vehicle may experience about a ten percent fuel savings. 

Truck freight efficiency is particularly important in South Dakota, because of the typically longer distances to markets and points of production. If the proposed platooning rules are adopted, the reduction in following distance that will be allowed is equivalent to the distance the second vehicle is expected to travel during the estimated time the driver is likely to recognize the need to stop and react to apply the brakes.

Because the rules require platooning vehicles to electronically coordinate speeds and distances, the necessary computer system coupling the two trucks should avoid the difficulties associated with human error, such as an inattentive driver in the second vehicle who may react very late.

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