You’ve no doubt heard of driverless cars, but what about driverless lorries? Well, the Department for Transport (DfT) has unveiled plans to test driverless ‘HGV platoons,’ which would enable vehicles to move in a group and as a result, use less fuel.
What’s more, Chancellor George Osborne wants the UK to “lead the way” in driverless lorries as part of a plan to speed up deliveries and cut congestion. However, fleet drivers worried about their livelihood shouldn’t be overly concerned…
Driverless lorry trials
According to a report in the Times, trials would take place on the M6 in Cumbria later in 2016. They would be carried out on a quiet stretch of motorway, with vehicles in convoy headed by a driver in the leading lorry.
If successful, the government hopes that HGV platoons featuring up to 10 computer-controlled vehicles being driven just metres apart from each other could be a common feature on UK roads.
Although ambitious and perhaps even revolutionary from a cost and congestion perspective, there are several obstacles to overcome. On top of that, industry experts have their doubts.
Challenges associated with the UK’s motorway network
Edmund King, the president of the AA, said the DfT’s plans could potentially work in another country, but not 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."
He did suggest the “only feasible place” to trial the plans would be on the M6 north of Preston towards Scotland, as it "tends to have less traffic and there are slightly fewer entrances and exits.”
The need for a driver
Even if the trials have positive outcomes, there is little to no chance that HGVs will be able to operate without a driver.
After all, a driverless lorry developed by Daimler, which attempts to help vehicles avoid other road users via a radar and camera sensing system, still requires a human to be present and focused on the road at all times.
Therefore, fleet drivers can rest easy at night that their jobs will be safe for many years to come, which also means fleet operators must continue carrying out licence checks too.