The government has just announced plans to start testing self-driving lorries on UK roads by the end of 2018.
However the scheme has already raised some concerns with organisations such as the AA and RAC who point out that the UK’s roads could quite simply be too congested for it to be effective.
Edmund King, president of the AA told the BBC: “We all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduce congestion but we are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it,
The government’s current plan is to start with what’s known as a ‘platoon’ of three vehicles travelling along in convoy.
While the rear two will be able to steer themselves their braking and acceleration will effectively be controlled by the lead lorry which will have a human driver.
This effectively allows all three vehicles to travel much closer together which in turn reduces their aerodynamic drag and increases their fuel efficiency.
As King points out though, creating what are effectively larger moving objects on the roads will inevitably come with some added hurdles.
For starters it will make road signs even harder to see as these vehicles will be obstructing them for longer.
Then there’s the rather unique issue of just how busy the UK’s roads are compared to other nations.
“We have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries. Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America,” explains King.
Despite this, both the government and haulage firms see one clear benefit to using self-driving lorries: It saves money.
As David Williams, Technical Director at AXA UK points out:
“Our research suggests that introducing autonomous haulage could save industry nearly £34bn after 10 years, when considering cost savings across four cost categories: labour, fuel, insurance and vehicle utilisation.
“Automated freight will not only be much more efficient, reduce congestion on the motorways, and make the roads safer for other users, it will also reduce the prices of the end products that we all buy.”
Despite the AAs concerns, the Transport Research Laboratory says the £8.1m trial will be tailored specifically for the UK’s unique road requirements.
It’s important to note that there are several phases to the trial as well with the first being to actually discuss the viability of testing in the first place.
While the government is discussing the viability of self-driving lorries companies like Tesla are already working self-driving electric lorries.
Elon Musk teased earlier this year that Tesla was working on an electric lorry.
Now according to an exclusive report from Reuters, the truck will be fully revealed next month with a range of around 200-300 miles. That’s considerably more than previous estimates for electric long-haul vehicles.