Partially self-driving lorries to be tested on major UK roads by end of 2018

Partially self-driving lorries are going to be tested on major roads in the UK by the end of 2018, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced.

The DfT and Highways England commissioned Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), an independent private firm offering a transport consultancy and research service to the public and private sector, to lead the first real-operational trial of platooning vehicles on British roads.

The ‘platooning’ trials will see three lorries travelling in convoy, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle.

The lead vehicle will be controlled by a human driver and communicate wirelessly to the other lorries – instructing them when to accelerate and brake.

What is platooning?

According to TRL:

“Platooning involves two or more vehicles connected with ‘vehicle to-vehicle communication’, allowing them to effectively communicate with each other and operate as a single unit. The constant controlled speed delivers fuel savings and environmental benefits through the reduction of CO2 emissions, whilst the ability to decrease the distance between vehicles increases road network capacity.

Platooning technology has the potential to deliver a wide range of benefits to all road users, according to Richard Cuerden, Academy Director at TRL.

Rob Wallis, Chief Executive, TRL commented: “The UK has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the world in trialling connected vehicle platoons in a real-world environment. TRL and its consortium of leading international partners, have the practical and technical knowledge gained from previous projects to understand what is required to put a connected vehicle platoon on to UK roads safely.

“The team are now taking that expertise and uniquely applying it within live traffic operations.”

The DfT said in a statement:

“Lorries on motorways are a step closer to accelerating, braking and steering in sync through wireless technology, thanks to £8.1 million government funding for trials announced today,”

Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England Chief Executive, said that the trial has the potential to demonstrate how greater automation of vehicles can offer improved safety, better journeys for road users and reduction in vehicle emissions.

Lorry platooning could help businesses by cutting fuel bills and benefit other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion.

Transport Minister Paul Maynard said: “We are investing in technology that will improve people’s lives.”