Trials of driverless cars on the motorway network are scheduled to take place by 2017 together with a £15m ‘connected corridor’ from London to Dover ‘to enable vehicles to communicate wirelessly with infrastructure’.
The announcement was made as part of this year’s Budget and comes as part of a Highways England Innovation Strategy.
Other aspects include carrying out trials of truck platooning on the strategic road network coupled with a government commitment to consult this summer on ‘sweeping away regulatory barriers within this parliament to enable autonomous vehicles on England’s major roads’.
The news comes after the Government released another £20m towards the driverless car agenda for eight new projects to research and develop ‘enhanced communication between vehicles and roadside infrastructure or urban information systems, including new “talking car” technologies’.
And trials to test driverless cars on the streets are currently being worked on in Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes, and Greenwich.
Professor Nick Reed, academy director at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), said: ‘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.
‘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.’
Ian Patey of Mouchel Consulting, which has been closely involved in the development of driverless technology, said: ‘Previous tests have suggested companies could expect fuel savings of up to 15% due to the first lorry creating a slipstream to reduce drag.
'Platooning will also lead to enhanced safety and reduced carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the rest of us could benefit from improved delivery times as well as the noise and congestion reductions it offers.
‘Although a trial location for the platooning hasn’t been confirmed as yet, the M6 in Cumbria could provide an interesting trial location, with more widely-spaced junctions and lighter traffic volumes than some of the other suggested trial routes.’
However he added: ‘HGV platooning is a completely different use case to anything we’ve seen on any roads before, and observing how automated and personal vehicles interact will be vital if platoons are to be successfully integrated onto our motorway networks in the future.’