Self-driving trucks could be on major UK roads by the end of 2018, the government has revealed. An £8.1 million scheme will test the trucks operating across the UK, to see if future plans for self-driving trucks are feasible in the next decade.
The scheme is going to be run by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), funded by the Department for Transport as well as Highways England. TRL will work with UK tech firm Ricardo, DHL Logistics and truck developer DAF.
Up to 3 self-driving HGVs will run all-together during tests, with a licensed driver in the vehicle prepared to take control if any errors or emergencies occur.
The Government believe truck platooning will be beneficial to firms and drivers: with lorries in-formation the head vehicle will “push” air which will avoid the lorries following, lowering consumption of fuel and emissions. This would also lower congestion on roads.
The trials are set to only move to general public roads when the potential of truck platooning across the UK is proven on private testing tracks. In these facilities, engineers will figure out how closely trucks should follow each other and which roads would be most suited for public testing.
“Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion,” advised transport minister Paul Maynard.
“But first we much make sure the technology is safe and works well on our roads, and that’s why we are investing in these trials.”
With Europe and the US already testing self-driving trucks and many being successful, the UK government now wish to replicate this success. President of the AA Edmund King discussed safety concerns stating the firm still isn’t convinced truck platooning will be beneficial and will becoming a more costly investment than it is worth.
“Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America,” he stated.
The RHA shares the AA’s concerns about the new plans. Chief executive Richard Burnett spoke regarding the topic: “Of course we welcome improvements to the way the road freight industry works and we understand the benefits that such a mode of operation would bring.
“However, currently the focus seems to be on the technology behind the system. Safety has to come first and it cannot be compromised. It is crucial that this element of the concept gets the highest priority.”
Richard Newbold, founder Warehouse Exchange, comments: “The focus should be on electric HGV's rather than platooning as the environmental benefits are far larger. Platooning may work in the USA but the road infrastructure in the UK just doesn't make it feasible. It could work perhaps on the M6 but what about the rest of the UK?”
Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief exec, insisted safety is the top priority of their planned tests.. “Safety will be integral as we take forward this work with TRL.
“The trial has the potential to demonstrate how greater automation of vehicles can deliver improvements in safety, better journeys for road users and reduction in vehicle emissions.”
If the tests are successful it could mean a major change for the haulage industry, coming much sooner than anyone could’ve predicted. With self-driving trucks on UK roads in 2018 only time will tell what this could mean for haulage as well as the drivers who rely on transporting across the UK.