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Driverless lorries to be trialled in the UK

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Plans to trial driverless HGV platoons have been confirmed by the Department for Transport (DfT) and testing is expected to take place later on in 2016.

A DfT spokesman said, “We are planning trials of HGV platoons – which enable vehicles to move in a group so they use less fuel – and will be in a position to say more in due course.” This claim that the vehicles will use less fuel refers to ‘drafting’, a technique where two or more vehicles align in a close group whilst moving to reduce the effect of drag on the lorries, benefiting from the lead vehicles slipstream. In demonstrations of drafting the fuel economy for similar platoons of man driven HGV’s has improved by up to fifteen percent.

Other benefits beyond saving on fuel include the reduction of congestion and delivery times as not having any drivers in the vehicles means the convoys would be able to run 24/7 and would only need to stop to re-fuel. However at least one human driver will be in the lead lorry during testing with hopes that one day they will be completely automated.

The idea was first successfully tested in Germany late last year with Mercedes-Benz fitting one of their standard Actros trucks with a highway pilot system, allowing it to work without a human driver. This truck managed to travel from Stuttgart to the town of Denkendorf with no serious complications.

However, many hurdles lay ahead of these driverless vehicles, these problems are mainly down to how the vehicles will react to other drivers accessing and exiting the motorways. Paul Watters, the head of roads and transport policy for the AA said, “Motorists will certainly be very nervous about the prospect and will need considerable reassurance that it will be safe. Motorways are pretty congested in the UK, they are about the most congested in Europe, and there will be problems in how they access and exit the roads.”

Potential test routes for these automated vehicles are said to be on less congested parts of UK motorways with a stretch of M6 near Carlisle being one option.