​Automated 'road trains' could appear next year

Storm causes traffic chaos
Gareth Fuller/PA WIRE

Following a recent government announcement that driverless cars will be tested on UK roads from 2015 onwards, the latest move towards automated vehicles concerns HGVs.
From next year onwards 'connected lorries' could appear on our roads, with trains of around 10 lorries being connected together through Wi-fi and the driver in the first vehicle controlling steering, acceleration and braking for all of the following lorries.

The vehicles would use laser sensors and infrared cameras to keep track of the convoy around them and drivers would be able to retake control of their vehicle should an emergency occur or to negotiate busy junctions.

The benefit of these convoys is all of the drivers bar one can relax while on the move. Provided the lead driver is alert and in a good state to drive, this setup could improve road safety, as drivers in the convoy could take turns to lead the pack and benefit from longer rest periods than the current driving setup allows.

Fuel consumption would also be reduced by around 10 per cent, and traffic congestion eased, as the lorries could travel more closely together, cutting wind resistance for the convoy. These new plans follow demonstrations of self-driving lorries in Germany last month.

Concerns have been raised by motoring organisations that such convoys could intimidate other motorists and make it difficult to join or leave motorways. Tests are likely to take place on tracks in the UK and will graduate onto quieter motorways at night, if trials prove successful. Following this, the technology would need to be tested on congested motorways.

The Daily Mail reports a government figure who told the Sunday Times: "There are potential benefits, notably reduced costs for haulage firms and reduced congestion for motorists, so there is sense in looking into it. Equally we have to be cautious and ensure that safety isn't compromised in any way."

Head of roads and transport policy at the AA, Paul Watters, said: "Road users will naturally have concerns. If the lorries are following each other closely, it might be hard to spot the road signs on the near side of the motorway. Putting it into practice would mean a complete re-design of the signage system. It would also make exit and entry very difficult on motorways, so the convoys would have to separate at every junction.

"These ideas always need to be looked at, but at this stage I can see some pitfalls. Motorways are the safest roads we have, and we wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardise that."
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