The UK has taken the very bold step and taken an international lead in the development of driverless HGVs.
The chancellor George Osborne confirmed in his budget speech this month that the UK is set to lead the way in the testing of HGV platoons on British roads. This technology could revolutionise the industry, bringing many great benefits to haulage companies throughout the UK and even the world. Although the general use of these vehicles are many years away!
The driverless technology set to be tested uses computers and sensors to drive a series of HGV vehicles in a platoon. This is where one lead vehicle’s actions, usually driven by a human, are safely followed. There could be a snaking series of lorries of up to 10 computer controlled lorries all just meters from each other. This technology can reduce fuel consumption, cut emissions, cut congestion and speed up deliveries for UK hauliers, issues which are a strain on many in the industry.
In the chancellor’s March 2016 budget he announced that the UK government would fund the trials as part of plans to speed up development of the technology. In his speech George Osbourne said that he wanted to make the UK “a global centre for excellence in connected and autonomous vehicles”. In addition to funding the research, the government plans to clear the legislative hurdles likely to slow down development of the technology, this has often proven to be an issue for many countries around the world looking to test autonomous vehicles.
Although Edmund King, the president of the AA, raised doubts as to whether the scheme was right for the UK. “The problem with the UK motorway network is that we have more entrances and exits of our motorways than any other motorways in Europe or indeed the world, and therefore it’s very difficult to have a 44 tonne 10-lorry platoon, because other vehicles need to get past the platoon to enter or exit the road.”
Similar trials of driverless lorries are already in progress in Europe and the US, so it is important that the UK government takes these necessary steps to ensure the UK haulage industry remains internationally competitive.
Safety is of course the highest priority for running these tests, especially with such large and dangerous vehicles on the public roads. There will be a fully trained driver behind the wheel at all times ready to take control of the lorry at any time. Many existing HGV drivers have said that they would be very nervous about relinquishing control of their lorries to a computer unless they knew it was completely safe.
It will be many years yet before we start to see haulage companies operating driverless HGVs on the UK roads, but with the significant benefits that they could bring many in the industry are certainly excited about them.