The news was revealed last month that the Department for Transport is currently investing in trials of platooning lorries on UK roads, the news had a range of responses from key people within the haulage industry, some of whom look forward to what the venture can bring while others are unsure what to think of the plans, along with concerns and frustration that this new platooning system will cost some drivers their job.
The project: set to cost around £8.1 million will trial platoons of up to three trucks travelling in one chain on main roads, brakes and acceleration are controlled through wireless tech on-board the leading vehicle, with the tests dated for 2018.
Many mainstream media reporters have branded these tests as “driverless haulage” and identified the vehicles as “self-driving trucks”. While this certainly isn’t the case, as the front vehicle will be handled by a driver, directing the other vehicles rather than the vehicles driving themselves.
There will be drivers at the wheel, ready to take control if it is needed – something the headlines avoid covering in their reports meaning these tests are essentially as safe as any other vehicle on the road.
Many in the sector are agreed that the trials should be welcomed to the industry because of the potential efficiency gains, but others are more concerned for safety reservations in addition to the benefits and suitability of platooning for the UKRA which still hadn’t been proven.
There has been much discussion regarding the vehicles driving closer to the front truck, which pushes air out of the vehicle’s path resulting in improved fuel economy and lowered emissions, ultimately improving quality in the air.
Other benefits of this includes eased congestion, along with potential safety benefits should the concept prove successful. In theory the trucks should have a faster response to breaking manoeuvres by the leading truck than a human driver would be able to.
Paul Mayndard, minister for transport felt the technology will “improve people’s lives, advances such as the lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions”.
Of many firms, DAF Trucks were named as a participant in the trial taking place. Scientists of the firm say the technology developed has a reaction time “25 times quicker than a top sports player” which would also mean other vehicles would be able to join and leave the motorway, potentially in a much safer method than current motorways.
The FTA also gave the plans a thumb up, stating that the “cost, congestion and carbon” benefits of the scheme are extremely significant, as well as that it is imperative that the government proceed with plans as quickly as possible which will give the industry time to prepare for the plans of future transport.
Regarding this, FTA national policy head Christopher Snelling stated: “Driving closely together, platoons of trucks take less space up on the road, travelling at constant speeds which can help improve traffic flows and reduce tailbacks.”
“However, the system has to be shown to be safe on the roads and to deliver the promised benefits. The sooner the trial takes place the sooner the UK logistics industry, which represents 11 percent of the UK’s non-financial business economy, can know if this will be the right route for the future.”
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders commercial vehicle manager, Nigel Base said that the plans could “revolutionise transport and logistics. While some organisations have highlighted the importance of ensuring that these trials are undertaken safely, it is undeniable that the introduction of autonomous technology will undoubtedly make our roads much safer, reducing accidents and saving thousands of lives.”
Richard Newbold, founder of HandyVan, said “the money would be better off spent elsewhere as platooning wouldn't, in my opinion, have a drastic environmental benefit as the UK road infrastructure isn't designed for platooning. The money wpuld be better spent on different technology that reduces CO2 emissions.
According to a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were a recorded 1,827 deaths caused by car incidents during 2016 in the UK alone.
Road safety charity director, Jason Wakeford has his own opinion on the trials: “Rather than platooning lorries on already congested UK roads, the government should instead cut emissions and improve public safety by moving more freight from road to rail. Each freight train takes around 60 HGVs off of the road network.”
“This rigorous trial is needed to prove whether this technology really can provide the safety and environmental benefits which have been claimed.”
The trials are set to take place in 2018.