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Wireless lorry convoy plan worries transport bodies

Transport associations have expressed safety concerns over the UK government’s announcement today (25 August) that driverless lorry convoys soon will be trialled on motorways.

Image credit: ©iStock/Antrey

The Transport Research Laboratory will carry out the “platooning” tests, which will involve up to three heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) travelling together. 

A human driver will control the lead vehicle, which in turn will communicate with the others using wireless technology to control their steering, breaking and acceleration. This could enable lorries to drive closer together than ever before due to faster reaction times. 

A row of HGVs driving with a shorter distance between them could see the rear vehicles travelling in the slipstream of the lead truck, improving fuel efficiency, lowering emissions and improving air quality.

All lorries in the platoon will always have a driver ready to take control at any time, said the Department for Transport, which along with Highways England has committed £8.1m of funding to the project.  

But the RAC Foundation, Freight Transport Association (FTA) and Road Haulage Association (RHA) have questioned the safety of the platooning system. 

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “We welcome any investment that keeps the UK at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development, but whether platooning itself is practical for our roads is another matter.

“Streams of close-running HGVs could provide financial savings on long-distance journeys, but on our heavily congested motorways, with stop-start traffic and vehicles jostling for position the benefits are less certain. There is then the question of reliability. 

“We accept a huge amount of human error on our roads but there would be little tolerance - especially amongst lorry drivers - of a platooning system that didn’t work perfectly 100% of the time.”

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “Currently the focus seems to be on the technology behind the system. Safety has to come first and it cannot be compromised. It is crucial that this element of the concept gets the highest priority.”

Christopher Snelling, FTA’s head of national policy, added: “The system has to be shown to be safe on the roads and to deliver the promised benefits.  The sooner the trial takes place, the sooner the UK logistics industry, which represents 11% of the UK’s non-financial business economy, can know if this will be the right route for the future.”

The technology first will be piloted on test tracks to help decide the distance between vehicles. Tests are expected to move to major roads by the end of 2018.



Keeley Downey was the former assistant editor of IOSH Magazine. Previously she was editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine


  • One assumes they have looked

    Permalink Submitted by Andy on 30 August 2017 - 10:25 am

    One assumes they have looked at the psychological impact on the people behind the wheel in trucks 2 & 3, after all isn't the health and safety of workers what we are all about?

  • A significant factor here is

    Permalink Submitted by Andy on 3 September 2017 - 09:01 am

    A significant factor here is the behaviour of and expectation on, the drivers in the rear vehicles. Maintaining sufficient concentration to be able to take effective control at any instant whilst having no input 99% of the time is humanly impossible. There is a huge amount that can be learned from airline pilots about the boredom of autonomous operation.

  • Sounds great but anyone who

    Permalink Submitted by Ron Brumby on 30 November 2017 - 09:47 pm

    Sounds great but anyone who has towed a caravan will tell you that HGV driver are quite unsympathetic to vehicles that slow them down- the perfect example where motorists view the speed limit as a target. So they will look to overtake all three vehicles whilst flashing headlights and sounding horns. Seems tome we have a long way to go in educating the drivers.

  • Not certain of what we are

    Permalink Submitted by John Quinn on 25 July 2018 - 03:54 pm

    Not certain of what we are trying to gain here. If the drivers of the platoon's following vehicles have to remain vigilant throughout the journey staring at the back of the vehicle in front, I fear that the boredom factor may result in them nodding off. Also, How will this work tacho wise? Are they driving or carrying out any other work? I have no doubt that the technology will work, but what about the other issues, the thousand and one "What if's, such as vehicle number two having a blow-out.


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