The UK Department for Transport (DfT) is to trial the use of “driverless” lorries in an attempt to cut fuel use and ease congestion.
The DfT said that it was planning to trial HGV platooning, where a group of between two and six lorries are electronically linked and driven by a lead driver so they operate as a single unit.
A DfT spokesman said the aim was to ease congestion by having the lorries take up less space and to take advantage of the slipstream effect to save fuel.
The lorries would have a person inside to monitor and potentially take control if there was a problem.
Press reports suggested the trial was likely to take place on a stretch of the M6 near Carlisle. However, the DfT said no decision had been made about the location of the trial.
There has also been speculation that Chancellor George Osborne could announce funding for the pilot in the Budget next week, but this has not been confirmed.
However, the DfT did confirm the trials were planned to take place sometime this year. “New technology has the potential to bring major improvements to journeys and the UK is in a unique position to lead the way for the testing of connected and driverless vehicles,” the spokesman said.
“We are planning trials of HGV platoons – which enable vehicles to move in a group so they use less fuel – and will be in a position to say more in due course.”
The DfT outlined the possibility of such trials in its Road Safety Statement, published in December, saying the trials would investigate the potential use of such a system on the UK infrastructure and their effects on UK traffic.
Mike Danby, CEO of logistics supplier Advanced Supply Chain, said he welcomed recognition of the pressures that the rise of e-commerce and expanding supply chains were placing on road transportation, including increasing fuel consumption and driver shortages.
“However, driverless technology is only one of a myriad of opportunities available to the government to address the strain on the haulage industry. Another example would be offering a grant scheme for driver training,” said Danby.
“These opportunities need to be strategically explored, compared and reviewed. This will ensure the UK has the infrastructure and transportation capacities and capabilities to ensure our economy can grow unrestrained.”