Breaker 1-9, We Got Ourselves A Road Train

An interesting new ploy to improve the road safety of long haul trucks and lessen their environmental impact was trialed recently in Spain.

The trial involved a convoy of vehicles which were interconnected via a wireless system which allowed the lead truck to dictate the movements of the whole convoy. The so-called “road train” idea is a joint venture between seven European partners including Volvo Trucks and is funded by the EU under the moniker SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment).

volvotruck

image via Volvo Trucks

In the SARTRE project, existing vehicle safety systems – such as cameras and radar – are used by the following vehicles to monitor the lead truck as well as other vehicles in their immediate vicinity. By adding wireless, the vehicles in the convey can be made to accelerate, brake and turn in synch with the lead vehicle.

If the road train system went into full operation, said Volvo Trucks, it would allow drivers in the convoy to rest while the lead vehicle took over the responsibility of driving all the other vehicles in the convoy.

This could have major implications for the haulage industry, since most governments set limits on the amount of hours a truck driver is allowed to be at the wheel without a taking a rest. In the U.S., for example, federal laws require most commercial truckers to stop driving no later than 14 hours after their workday begins. Moreover, commercial truckers who work 60 hours over seven consecutive days must take at least 34 hours off so they can get two full nights of sleep.

The road trains could also significantly cut fuel use, Volvo claimed, since the following vehicles are kept so close to each other they can reap the benefit of lower air drag. By improving traffic flow, the truck maker said, road capacity can also be utilized more efficiently.

For the recent trial, which took place on a motorway outside of Barcelona, a test convoy covered 200 kilometers in one day. The convoy consisted of three Volvo cars and another Volvo truck following the lead truck, each vehicle at a distance of just 6 meters from one another and traveling at constant speed of 50 mph.

“The truck behaved exactly as expected, and the following vehicles responded just as planned. It was great to be a part of this landmark event,” Andreas Ekfjorden, Project Manager for Volvo Trucks in the SARTRE project and test driver of the lead truck in Spain, said in a statement.

Ekfjorden task was made easier by a number of safety systems on the Volvo which included Volvo Trucks’ Lane Keeping Support, Driver Alert Support and alcolock.

volvo truck train

image via Volvo Trucks

“The focus on driver environment is at the very core of Volvo Trucks’ R&D work,” Carl Johan Almqvist (pictured above), Traffic and Product Safety Director of Volvo Trucks, said in a statement. “Making the truck a safer workplace and supporting the driver is one of the most efficient ways for us to contribute to road safety. It is also part of our ultimate goal: zero accidents with Volvo Trucks. Our participation in the SARTRE project is a natural extension of that philosophy.”

Following the trials, the project team will now begin its analysis of fuel consumption in order to work how best to make the system as fuel efficient as possible. Since 2009 when it began, vehicles in the project have covered about 6,000 miles.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.