In George Osborne’s latest Budget earlier this year, the chancellor confirmed that driverless lorries would be trialled on UK roads. The technology, already tested in Germany by Daimler, allows vehicles to move efficiently and in groups to help reduce costs.
The trials are expected to take place towards the end of 2016, using a quiet stretch of the M6 in Cumbria. A convoy of up to ten automated vehicles will travel together – just metres apart from each other – controlled by a single driver in the leading lorry, in case of any emergencies.
An automated future
Over the past few years, vehicle manufacturers and technology giants (like Google) have been developing self-driving technologies, paving the way for a future of ‘robot cars’. Their achievements have become so advanced that tests in the US and Japan have been considered largely successful, and trials are taking place in the UK.
Naturally, the next step up from this has been to look at commercial and larger goods vehicles. Last October, Daimler’s self-driving “highway mode” was activated on a vehicle upon reaching a motorway. The lorry travelled successfully and safely, using radar and cameras to detect road markings, obstacles and surrounding vehicles.
While the tests have been successful in Germany, there are logistical concerns over testing on the UK motorways. Our roads are generally busier, with more junctions for the connected platoon to get past, in order to allow other road users getting on or off the motorway. This is why a stretch of the M6 north of Preston has been chosen, as it’s usually quieter with not as many junctions along the way.
Other concerns include where responsibility would lie in case of an accident. Drivers would still be needed to operate vehicles – overriding controls if needed – and in the eyes of the law, they would have to take responsibility for any incidents caused. According to Commercial Motor, senior traffic commissioner Beverley Bell: “it’s the same as airline pilots – if (a plane) is on autopilot it’s driverless, but (pilots) are responsible.”