Forget Self-Driving Cars: Are You Ready For Self-Driving Lorries?

Aug 18, 2014

A proposal has been drafted that could see computerised "road trains" of lorry convoys placed on British roads as soon as next year, according to a report in The Sunday Times this weekend quoting unnamed DfT sources.

While each individual vehicle will still have a driver inside, every convoy of lorries would be controlled by just one human driver at the front of the pack.

This individual would then be responsible for the other drivers' braking, acceleration and steering through an automated system, claim the backers of the plan.

Each vehicle would communicate via a dedicated wi-fi connection - meaning that if the lead vehicle were to change speed, the others would copy. For added safety, the convoy would be monitored by laser sensors and infra-red cameras.

In an emergency or at busy junctions and roundabouts, the drivers of the trailing lorries would be able to retake control of their vehicles and navigate more complex routes.

Fuel Efficiency

Supporters of the initiative claim that such a system would cut fuel consumption and ease congestion, allowing large numbers of lorries to travel long distances on motorways with only a few yards separating them.

The fuel efficiency will be a big draw for many logistics organisations. Lower running costs would be achieved, say supporters, because of the lorry convoy's streamlined formation that should drastically reduce aerodynamic drag.

Other benefits include the ability for drivers to take breaks without having to pull into a service station, thus increasing time on the road and allowing drivers to read a book or "sit back and enjoy a relaxed lunch" on the move.

However, the proposal faces opposition from motoring organisations like the AA, which has warned that the convoys could intimidate other drivers and block cars from entering and exiting motorways.

"It's a complicated one and road users will naturally have concerns about it," said Paul Watters, head or roads and transport policy at the AA. "If the lorries are following each other closely, it might be hard to spot the road signs on the near side of the motorway. Putting it into practice would mean a complete re-design of the signage system."

The next step is to carry out tests on special tracks across the UK, say the press reports; if successful, the scheme could then be rolled out onto quieter motorways at night time.

If those work well, further trials may be implemented on heavily congested motorways.

So far similar tests have been carried out in Sweden and Germany with considerable success.

Author: Alysia Judge
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