Talk of “driverless” lorries has been flying around for ages, then finally last week (25th August 2017) it was announced they will be trialed on UK roads by the end of 2018. Some people think the platoon trials are the best thing since sliced bread, others think it’s a colossally bad idea.
The platoons will travel in formations of three connected via WIFI, with the lead lorry being manned by a driver and the remaining two mirroring the braking and acceleration of the first. However, the two lorries that aren’t being “driven” will still be manned by a driver who controls the steering and can take over control of the vehicle in an emergency. The lorries will technically be able to drive much closer together than normal, reducing air resistance for the following vehicles which could lead to fuel efficiency savings.
The announcement of the platoon trials has made us ask lots of questions, mainly, how will this affect the logistics industry? There is already a huge shortage of drivers in the UK but if “driverless” lorries were to become the norm we predict the lack of drivers to get even worse. Drivers and logistics personnel are already voicing their opinions on the plans with many stating that no one will want to man the second and third vehicles as they “have to put all their trust in the lead driver” and will “lose the will to live staring at the same back door”. Would the roles of the second and third drivers cause the HGV profession to be seen as less skilled causing rates to drop?
A lot of focus is also on the safety of these lorry platoons, with even the AA weighing in and saying they raise safety concerns. The “driverless” lorries may work on American and European motorways but how will they fare on our motorways with many exits and entries? Drivers are predicting major accidents will occur because of the platoons, with car users trying to drive between the lorries, issues with braking and the chain of connectivity being broken. They are also concerned about the implications if there is an accident, which lorry would be at fault? The roads can already be a dangerous place, our worry is these lorries may make it more dangerous, not less.
Before the platoons take to the roads, The Transport Research Laboratory will be starting trials on test tracks to determine things such as the best distance between vehicles and identifying roads. We just hope that before commencing the live trials they take into account the views and opinions of the people that will be manning these vehicles.