Road Safety News

Partially driverless HGVs to be trialled in 2018

Friday 25th August 2017

Image: TRL, via Twitter

Small convoys of 'partially driverless lorries' will undergo trials on British roads by the end of 2018, the Government has announced.

Unveiled in a press release issued today (25 August), the £8.1m ‘platooning’ trial will see up to three heavy goods vehicles, travelling in convoy, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle.

All lorries in the platoon will have a driver ready to take control at any time.

Funded by the DfT and Highways England, the trial will be carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL). It follows a government-funded feasibility study which recommended a trial to examine the benefits and viability of platooning.

Applying experience gained in platooning projects in Europe and the USA, the project will collect information and independently evaluate heavy vehicle platooning under real-world operational conditions.

TRL says the trials will be tailored to the unique requirements of UK roads and will collate the evidence required to understand issues such as fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, safety, acceptance by drivers and other road users, implications for future infrastructure, and the commercial case for adoption.

The DfT says if successful, the trail will prove that autonomous technology could have major benefits for motorists and businesses in the UK.

The DfT adds that in circumstances where lorries are moving closer together, as is the case with platooning, the front vehicle pushs the air out of the way, making the vehicles in the convoy more efficient, lowering emissions and improving air quality.

Richard Cuerden, Academy director at TRL, said: “Platooning technology has the potential to deliver a wide range of benefits to all road users. The trials will highlight the services that platooning may offer road users and whether these can safely contribute to a reduction in vehicle emissions, improved journeys and greater economic prosperity.”

Paul Maynard, transport minister, said: “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.”

Category: Autonomous vehicles.



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Or wrong way ... as the case may be. Personaly I see that most drivers on a motorway will pull out and into the middle lane if free and that will allow a driver on so there is little conflict.

Unfortunately that may lead to some drivers of a certain mental capacity believing that they can do this all the time as its become a norm and they do not even look at the motorway to find a space but blast onto it usually just missing other vehicles and then continue usually over into the middle and outside lanes.

Why is there never a police officer when you want one. Perhaps video is the way to go.
m.worthington Manchester

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Hmm.. not sure of your logic there David, but each to their own - we all have our individual driving styles and right way of doing things.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Hugh, my plan is based on the fact that all vehicles can lose speed far more easily than they can increase it.
David, Suffolk

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Keith, it's fun or rather not fun trying nowadays to exit or enter a motorway for that matter. With so many HGVs in convoy at only 20/30ft apart at 60 mph (who said tailgating is dead. Its alive and well on our motorways). It's tantamount to suicide for many a driver who would attempt to infiltrate between those jugganauts. By the way a HGV fully laden could take three times longer or more than the braking distances of a normal car. Many drivers are not aware of that possible increased danger.

Keith, I for one would love to see HGVs restricted to the inside lane as they cause so many tailbacks when they overtake. The transport system for other users and also HGV drivers would run a lot simper, faster and safer if they were to be restricted. If platooning becomes allowed then regs should be made that state that between every platoon of three their should be a distance of a marker post of space which is at least 315ft and that space would give other drivers a chance to enter onto and leave the motorway system.
Bob Craven Lancs

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I'm the opposite David - my approach on the on-slip would be around 40-50 mph - easy enough to accelerate as and if required.

If you perceive typical speeds in lane 1 to be mid-fifties (probably right) why go up to 70 knowing you will probably have to drop back down again, particularly if, not unusually, there is a vehicle following you at an equally high speed thinking your going to join the M-way at 70?
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Hugh, my issue is not so much with those who attempt to gatecrash the party at 60-70mph, but those who attempt to do exactly the same at 35-40mph. The inside lane of a motorway generally runs at around mid-fifties mph, and all vehicles lose speed much better than they accelerate. I find a good plan is to reach 60-70 mph on the slip road and adjust speed on the brakes, or acceleration sense, to merge with traffic. Reaching the end of a slip road and finding oneself stationary is all too common for some people, because of their reluctance to accelerate.

Tony is living in Utopia if he thinks that some advice in the Highway Code means that there will be no problems in the real world.
David, Suffolk

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Presumably if Platooning lorries become a success and then become common practice,can expect to see the left lane of motorways dedicated to lorries. All driving at the same speed and the same distance overtaking in the same way with the same speed differential.
If they are the success the developers believe, there will I guess be one maximum speed for all of these platoons.

Should be fun trying to exit the motorways for car drivers.

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Unfortunately it seems to be the norm now that some drivers, when joining a M-way or dual c/way, will attain 60-70mph on the on-slip and assume there will be a gap for them or, if not, that those those in lane one will obligingly move out of their way at the last second. Gone are the days it would seem when drivers would adjust their speed - up or down - to merge neatly and safely with the traffic already on the M-way. For some it's not so much 'joining' the M-way, but 'gatecrashing' it. Possibly those behind these trials have a rose-tinted view of the behaviour on M-ways.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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Rule 259 of HC gives pretty clear advice on how to join a motorway, if we are seriously saying that drivers joining a motorway would not be able to deal with 160 ft of lorries (distance other posters have mentioned) I think we are in much deeper trouble than we think!

Equally this applies to leaving the motorway, you are given notices of at least a mile that your junction is approaching, if you cannot see if it is clear to pass the 'platoon' in that time you sit behind them, otherwise, like above we have more trouble than we know!

If the standard of joining/leaving the motorway is that bad really, we should be considering a separate test for motorway driving.

Three lorries platooned is not an uncommon site, certainly not on the motorways I use (M25/M11), the issue is will the lead driver and the 'e-drivers' be able to deal with the last minute lane changer that we all know of!

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It is interesting that the trials are to be performed on the upper reaches of the M6. This is because the junctions there are few, and far between, thus minimising any problems with other drivers entering and leaving the motorway with what is effectively a vehicle of 160 feet in length to cope with.

It seems a huge leap of faith to me to conduct trials in such an area, and then declare the concept safe for the entire motorway network. I'd be looking to have trials in the most challenging locations, if I were to be confident about platooning.

I have no doubt that the technology will work well, but the average car driver will probably not cope well. Many of them now struggle to enter a motorway safely, so what they will do when confronted by a platoon is anyone's guess.

Platooning demands a high standard of driving by the lead man. If there is a problem, and he fails to do the right thing then there will be two more trucks behind him that will plough headlong into disaster. The Laws of Physics have not been suspended for platoons. I wonder whether there will be a test of a higher standard that a platoon leader has to pass before being let loose on our roads.
David, Suffolk

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The article raises some interesting points. Firstly, the UK has I believe the busiest motorways in Europe and beyond. I could see this type of "convoy" working really well in Australia in the outback where trucks travel long distances on mainly empty highways. Even Spain or France has far less traffic and the possibilities might exist.

But ultimately we need to understand the purpose of the exercise. I do not believe that TRL has concrete evidence of the 10% reduction in fuel costs. They and other research organisations that operate in Europe (some of which I have worked with) tend to pluck a figure out of the air and try to prove it - aka "Wing and a prayer research".

I suspect that there are two underlying reasons for these trials - the most important of course is money for the research. Billions being spent, mainly with the excuse of "road safety", but also to push the boundaries of technology, which in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, BUT the underlying factor seems to be the replacement of humans - as I understand it, only the lead vehicle would - eventually - need a driver.

The Road Safety industry would argue that humans are fallible and thus taking control would mean less crashes. But I don't understand the other points raised by the minister (typically politicians are clueless) regarding lower emissions and less congestion. How would that work?

My bug bear is that so much money is being thrown on these projects - billions, yet our roads are inadequate as is driver training.

Until such time as the focus is placed firmly on good infrastructure and better training for the humans behind the wheel, this seems to be yet another "good idea".

BTW, I asked TRL where the 10% fuel reduction figure came from - the response was see the feasibility study put out by the DfT.

However, basically the 10% was extrapolated from the SARTRE study - but if you go to this link here: regarding the SARTRE study, apart from a discussion on aerodynamics, it doesn't actually indicate how they came to their figure of 5% much less the 10% that TRL quotes.

Pages 15 and 16 of this report - from the DfT website doesn't really enlighten me either as to how those particular figures were arrived.

What for me at least was far more interesting were the comments on page 9 "Studies have consistently found that the fuel economy benefits generally increase as the following distance reduces" - but no particular mention of which studies.

In any event, I'm still not sure where that figure came from, nor indeed what ultimate benefit these vehicles will give to the transport industry and society as a whole.
Elaine, Europe

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They weren't trialled on UK roads, well at least legally. The owner of Denby Transport "trialled" this on UK roads under police escort because he couldn't reverse the trailer back into his yard, apparently.

The closest we have is either the exemption for large recovery trucks or the showman exemption.
David Weston, Corby

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An alternative would be what the Americans call a 'B Rig', one tractor towing two trailers, takes less road space than two complete units travelling as a platoon, and saves one tractor and one trailer. I seem to recall that B rigs were tried in the UK many years ago, what happened?
Robert Bolt, St Albans

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Hugh. They already drive at closer to 60 mph nose to tail at a distance of only 20ft between and each one is being driven separately. If something untowards happens to the first vehicle the other two or three closest to him will all become involved in one great pile up.

If being driven by the first HGV in platoon and the first one brakes hard the others will react in micro seconds and also brake so basically in principal they will be safer hopefully.

What happens though if the first driver wishes to overtake a similar platoon of three? Will they all stay together mile after mile at about or just under 60 mph and obstructing two lanes causing further tailbacks to other vehicles on the motorway. Perhaps causing them to drive to close together untill all three in the platoon have overtaken the other slower platoon.
Bob Craven Lancs

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Not as much as any drivers merging from slip roads when they suddenly see a triple vehicle convoy.

Interestingly Transport Minister advocates these trials as an investment in making sure the technology is safe. Hence the clear implication is that they are currently not sure that the technology is safe.
Rod King, Warrington - 20's Plenty for Us

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Judging by the photo above and the close following distances, I would imagine the 'drivers' in lorries two and three would require nerves of steel.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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It is difficult enough joining and leaving busy motorways with goods vehicles "platooning" as they do already, this will only make matters worse. Also since the start and end point of the journey will not be on a motorway are we to look forward to a rule where cars give way to goods vehicles?
Jonathan, Thirsk

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Can "controllers" of the following autonomous vehicles be done for close tailgating?
Pat, Wales

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As a lorry driver I can't see this being done safely, the most demanding part of the job is anticipating what motorists around me are likely to do and making allowances for it. I'm not sure it can be done if driving several lorries at once, much more driver education required.
Calum Beveridge

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