DfT provides £8.1 million for lorry convoy tech trials

Tests of ‘platooning’ focus on using wireless to control movements of heavy good vehicles

The Department for Transport has pledged £8.1 million to support trials for ‘platooning’ heavy goods vehicles.

Lorries on roadIn a process that is hoped to reduce traffic congestion on roads, the vehicles are directed to accelerate, brake and steer in sync through wireless technology.

The trials, to be run by the Transport Research Laboratory and supported by the DfT and Highways England, will involve up to three lorries driving close together. Each will have a driver ready to take control.

They will be carried out in three phases, the first focusing on the potential for platooning on major roads. Initial track test based research will help to decide details such as distance between vehicles and on which roads the test could take place, and trials are expected to take place on major roads by the end of 2018.

It follows a government funded feasibility study which recommended a trial to examine the benefits and viability of platooning.

Cutting emissions and congestion

Transport Minister Paul Maynard said: “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.”

Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief executive, said: “The trial has the potential to demonstrate how greater automation of vehicles – in this instance, HGVs – can deliver improvements in safety, better journeys for road users and reduction in vehicle emissions.

“Investing in this research shows we care about those using our roads, the economy and the environment, and safety will be integral as we take forward this work with TRL.”

Potential problems

While benefits have been identified for public authorities and haulage companies in platooning, so have a number of potential problems. Website Right Driver has said it could lead to accidents by drivers of normal vehicles trying to join the platoon, and create chains of vehicles that obstruct others.

There are worries that platooning could create obstacles on single lane roads, making it difficult for other vehicles to overtake safetly. It would also involve the ad hoc creation of communication networks between the drivers involved, which could be a target for hijackers.

Image from Highways England, CC BY 2.0