Trials of driverless trucks are scheduled to begin before the end of the year, and will take place on the M6 in Cumbria, according to recent media reports.
It was even possible that the initiative will be announced by the Chancellor George Osborne during his Budget on Wednesday March 16.
A Department for Transport spokesperson confirmed that a trial was being planned but could not confirm where or when.
A spokesman said: “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.
‘Trials of HGV platoons’
“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 platoons would consist of a lead truck driven by a driver, with up to 10 driverless trucks following in a line metres apart.
Malcolm Bingham, head of road network management policy at the Freight Transport Association (FTA), said the reports were credible as the required technology was available.
However he told FoodManufacture.co.uk it was a misnomer to call them driverless. “The first lorry has a driver and I assume there will have to be a driver in each of the other lorries for when they leave the motorway.
“With a driver in each lorry, and even if they aren’t driving they will probably be considered to be in charge, there will be no savings in cost of drivers. Presumably the hours will be classified as driving time too, so there is no reduction in their driving hours either.”
Savings in fuel
Any savings in fuel consumption would be welcomed by fleet owners, he said. Carbon savings would also be attractive as pressure grows to reduce emissions.
He suggested a trial on the M6 in Cumbria would make sense as there are fewer junctions on this stretch.
But he warned: “Trying out the system around Birmingham, where there are lots more junctions, and car drivers might be faced by a solid bank of lorries, would be quite different.”
However, he said some large fleet owners often have multiple vehicles going to the same destination and, particularly at night, might find the system useful.
The FTA welcomed the trials because its members would want to know whether the system would work, and what the potential savings might be, said the spokesman.
“The extra kit required is obviously going to add cost so we will want to know whether the savings are going to make it cost effective,” he said.