Driverless lorries and cars will be trialled in the UK, the government has confirmed in its Budget. Earlier in March, The Times suggested trials would take place on a "quiet stretch" of the M6 motorway in Cumbria in 2016.
The government has now confirmed "lorry platooning" trials, in which vehicles form a convoy headed by a driver in the leading lorry, will go ahead.
In the Budget, the government said it wanted the UK to be "a global centre for excellence in connected and autonomous vehicles".
Edmund King, president of the AA, has previously questioned the feasibility of a lorry platooning scheme in the UK: "The problem with the UK motorway network is that we have more entrances and exits of our motorways than any other motorways in Europe or indeed the world.
"Therefore it's very difficult to have a 44 tonne 10-lorry platoon, because other vehicles need to get past the platoon to enter or exit the road."
Professor Nick Reed, Academy Director, Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), commented: “TRL welcomes the Chancellor’s confirmation of truck platooning trials on the UK’s roads. It’s a logical next step following TRL’s work alongside Ricardo for the Department of Transport (DfT) on the feasibility of operating commercial vehicle platoons.
“A move towards greater levels of automation in trucks could deliver compelling efficiency improvements for both the UK’s haulage industry and transport network. Trials of this nature are already in progress in the US and Europe, so it’s vital that the UK takes these steps to ensure our haulage industry remains competitive globally.
“First and foremost, safety must be the government’s highest priority. The technology needs to be proven to be safe before it moves to on-road trials, and thus gradually builds in complexity, to establish the scale of the benefits achievable in the context of real-world driving. The precise scope of trials remains to be defined, but we envisage that all vehicles participating in trials will have fully trained and qualified drivers at the controls at all times.
“Secondly, the haulage industry must be closely involved in the trials to examine the practical requirements for platooning in a commercial and operational environment. Within this, the needs of drivers must be prioritised. The further training required for drivers of the convoy’s lead and following trucks is important to ensure the safe operation of the platoon, and particular attention must be paid to the in-vehicle information systems that control platoon formation.”