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LONDON – Partially driverless lorries are set to hit UK roads by the end of 2018.
On Friday, the Department for Transport announced a trial that will see “platooning” lorries driving in convoy with their acceleration and braking controlled by the front vehicle.
All three vehicles in each convoy will still have a driver in the cabin – but it’s a significant step forward in efforts to test autonomous driving technology on British roads.
In a statement, transport minister Paul Maynard said it could help make vehicles more energy-efficient and save costs: “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.”
The first stage of trials will be carried out on test tracks, and will try and iron out details like how close the trucks should be and what roads will be suitable, the Department for Transport said in a press release. After that, trials on “major roads” are expected before the end of next year.
The trial is being conducted by Transport Research Laboratory, a British company, and the UK government is providing £8.1 million in funding.
British motoring association The AA has expressed caution about the trials, however. According to the BBC, president Edmund King said: “We all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduce congestion but we are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it … We have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries. Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America.”
The concern is that the trucks moving in tight formation could block the view of signs and other road features for others.