South Dakota might see semi-automated trucks

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Pierre Capitol building legislature

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota could be the next place for truck platooning.

The state Transportation Commission passed rules Thursday to allow it on South Dakota’s interstate highways, except in certain weather conditions and during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

The commission also extended the speed zone at Bryant and opened hundreds more miles of routes to specially-permitted longer combination vehicles.

For platooning, companies would need special permits from the state Department of Public Safety in order to run pairs of trucks closer together than normal.

The specially equipped trucks must link by a wireless communication system.

Drivers would still steer both trucks. But when synced, the rear truck would automatically change speeds or put on its brakes at nearly the same moment as the front truck.

Drivers could override the automated system by tapping their feet on buttons on the floorboards.

The Legislature approved platooning during the 2019 session and Governor Kristi Noem signed the law March 1.

29 states now allow it, including all of South Dakota’s neighbors.

The next step comes November 4 when the package goes to the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee.

Captain John Broers, who heads motor-carrier enforcement for the state Highway Patrol, and Myron Rau, president for the South Dakota Trucking Association, testified in favor.

Rau said the lead truck would use about four-percent less fuel and the rear truck would save about 10 percent. Burning less fuel reduces exhaust.

Broers said South Dakota’s safe-distance law is “arguably” vague and open to judges’ various interpretations, but writing the law for each specific speed would be cumbersome.

The trucking industry’s argument is platooning is safer, because wireless communication vehicle-to-vehicle means the rear driver doesn’t need to notice and react to brake.

Shawn McIntosh, a truck driver from Wessington Springs, spoke against. He argued that drivers in platoons would become complacent. “That’s going to get people killed,” McIntosh said. “We’re scared. We’re scared.”

Commissioner Benj Stoick of Mobridge first called for the proposal to be tabled but later reversed.

Karla Engle, a lawyer for the commission, said a committee of more than 20 people worked on the platooning rules for about four months.

“I feel very confident in what the committee has done,” chairwoman Kathy Zander of Pierre said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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