The Chancellor is widely reported to be planning to announce that driverless lorries are to be trialled in the UK.
Several media outlets say George Osborne is expected to confirm this in his budget speech with the Department for Transport saying the UK will lead the way in testing “HGV platoons”, because it enables vehicles to move in a group, using less fuel.
The Times reported that trials would take place on a fairly quiet stretch of the M6 in Cumbria later this year, with vehicles in convoy headed by a driver in the leading lorry.
The paper said the plans could result in platoons of up to ten computer-controlled lorries being driven metres apart from each other, with the chancellor preparing to fund the trials as part of plans to speed up lorry deliveries and cut congestion.
However Edmund King, the president of the AA, told the BBC that, while such a scheme might work in other countries, he was doubtful it 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,” he’s quoted as saying.
He added that the “only feasible place” to trial the plans would be the M6, north of Preston towards Scotland, because it “tends to have less traffic and there are slightly fewer entrances and exits”.
RAC chief engineer David Bizley said, “The RAC would in principle welcome this kind of development but it does raise a lot of questions in terms of how the technology can be adopted safely.
“On the one hand there are a number of significant benefits that are being forecast as a result of the introduction of driverless lorries, such as an average fuel reduction of around 10% and improved motorway capacity because the lorries in the group will be far closer to one another than in a normal driving situation. It should also add to safety on the roads as there’s less opportunity for human error, but one of the main questions is really whether lorry platoons are appropriate for our motorway network, which is why the choice of the M6 in Cumbria for the trials is a good one because the junctions are few and far between and the traffic density is low compared with most stretches of motorway.”
The American company Peloton has been demonstrating how two-lorries can drive whilst electronically connected so they accelerate and brake together, but say more than that will cause problems with vehicles trying to cross the lane between them.
Picture: A Daimler Driverless lorry in Germany – from BBC website