Shaping Future Transportation - Campus Connectivity

Platoons of autonomous HGVs may never feature in the UK because the road network is not up to the job, according to the RHA.

It was responding to a Lords' report published this week that suggested HGV platooning could be “an early example of CAV [connected and autonomous vehicles] close to deployment”.

The report, which analysed the economic opportunities for the technology, quoted Mike Hawes, chief executive officer at the SMMT, who said: “HGVs may be one of the first elements of road transport that will take advantage of [CAV] technologies because… if you are a road haulage operator, you are very interested in what your pence per mile rate is [and] you can have a benefit in fuel economy by platooning.”

However, Charlie Henderson, a partner at technology consultants PA Consulting Group said there were challenges: “The business model is, as a fleet operator, you still have a driver sitting in the vehicle, so you are still paying for the driver. Do you pay them less because they are not driving a chunk?”

The RHA said it was treating the idea with “a healthy dose of caution”.

Marketing director Rod McKenzie said: “Our motorways are peppered with exit and entry points – causing queues for vehicles trying to join and leave the motorway will simply create even more congestion.

"Of course the auto-pilot facility has the ability to remove human error and mistake – but what happens if the engine goes wrong?

“The haulage industry is increasingly IT-led and we embrace technology – but not at the expense of safety or practicality. The experts have it all to prove as far as we are concerned.”

The DfT told in December it still intended to launch a UK trial of HGV platoons during 2017.

Responding to the Lords' report, a DfT spokeswoman said: “Britain can lead the way in the development of autonomous vehicles that have the potential to transform the way we travel.

"Automated vehicles could make our roads even safer and easier to use, as well as promising new mobility for those who cannot drive.

"We have committed over £200m to research and development and are also changing regulations to unblock barriers to this exciting new technology.”