Ravell Call, Deseret News
FILE - Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville works in the Senate at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March 13, 2014.

SALT LAKE CITY — New autonomous vehicle technology aimed at optimizing the efficiency, and safety, of commercial trucks by linking them in a multi-vehicle platoon that automates functions like speeding up, slowing down and braking could be coming to Utah roads soon under a proposal passed Wednesday by a state Senate committee.

Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, is sponsoring SB56, which decouples the two-second rule for safe following distance on Utah roadways for big rigs that are connected via the new technology.

Harper told the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee that a few companies working to develop platooning technology had already road-tested their systems, under short-term permission agreements, on Utah roads.

Current state law requires that vehicles follow in a manner that is appropriate for road type and conditions, with a minimum distance defined as "so that at least two seconds elapse before reaching the location of the vehicle directly in front of the operator's vehicle." Harper's bill would add an exemption for "follower" vehicles in a commercial truck platoon to exemptions that already exist for funeral processions and traffic traveling under 35 mph.


Platooning systems operate by linking follower vehicles via wireless electronic connection to a lead vehicle in a way that synchronizes the acceleration, deceleration and breaking for all the rigs, according to what the lead vehicle does.

In addition to the linking system, each truck in the platoon would require autonomous/computer-controlled acceleration, deceleration and braking assist. The technology allows the vehicles to follow much more closely than when they operate individually, which optimizes the aerodynamic effects, and fuel efficiency, for every vehicle in the chain.

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Autonomous vehicle technology has advanced at a rapide rate, with large-scale research and testing efforts for partial and fully autonomous vehicles underway for the past several years.

Major car manufactures have all launched autonomous vehicle programs, and research by tech giants such as Google and Uber have helped accelerate the development of driverless-car technology. Earlier this week, Uber officials announced plans to deploy autonomous vehicles for "real world" use in select cities in 18 months.