The government has today announced that it will spend more than £8m to bring lorry platooning trials to the UK in 2018.
The trials are aimed at understanding the feasibility of platooning, its benefits and viability. The Transport Research Laboratory is carrying out the work in three phases, initially on the track and identifying which roads will be best, with platoons set to be on our highways before the end of next year.
“The UK has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the world in trialling connected vehicle platoons in a real-world environment. TRL and its consortium of leading international partners, have the practical and technical knowledge gained from previous projects to understand what is required to put a connected vehicle platoon on to UK roads safely. The team are now taking that expertise and uniquely applying it within live traffic operations,” said Rob Wallis, Chief Executive, TRL.
Up to three heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) will travel in convoy on British roads, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle. The rear two vehicles will be semi-autonomous, with drivers always in the vehicle, ready to take control at any time.
“We are investing in technology that will improve people’s lives. Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion. But first we must make sure the technology is safe and works well on our roads, and that’s why we are investing in these trials,” said Transport Minister Paul Maynard.
Though similar trials have already taken place successfully in other parts of the world, such as in Europe and the United States, the technology is not without its critics. Not least from the President of the AA, Edmund King, who spoke to the BBC to raise safety concerns.
“We all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduce congestion but we are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it. We have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries.Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America,” said King.
Meanwhile the Road Haulage Association welcomed the development, with caveats: “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,” said Richard Burnett, Chief Executive, RHA.
The Freight Transport Association’s Head of National Policy, Christopher Snelling, echoed a similar sentiment, but went on to encourage expediency.
“The sooner the trial takes place, the sooner the UK logistics industry, which represents 11% of the UK’s non-financial business economy, can know if this will be the right route for the future. Platooning could be a real opportunity to optimise logistics on the road – we need to know if it is the way forward as soon as possible,” said Snelling.
The news follows a recent announcement to ban petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK by 2040, as part of government’s plans to improve air quality.