SOE News

IRTE stress safety concerns in HGV platooning

19th Oct 2017

In response to government approval of trials for platooning HGVs, IRTE have urged caution and remain sceptical of plans they say may not be suitable for busy UK roads.

Funded by Highways England and Department for Transport, the £8.1m trial is set to begin next year, led by a consortium including TRL, DAF Trucks, Ricardo and DHL.

Platooning works by wirelessly connecting up to three HGVs, with the lead vehicle in control of the two behind, effectively changing speed and direction in tandem.

Although there could be potential benefits to vehicle platooning, such as fuel savings, reduced congestion, and a cut in CO2 emissions, IRTE have serious reservations at this stage about the proposals, which would see similar trials to those already completed in the US and Europe, albeit in vastly different road conditions.

John Eastman, Chair of the IRTE Professional Sector Council, said: “The risks are extreme and the complications manifold. Drivers have a big enough job trying to pull out with a single vehicle, so if you have three vehicles trying to pull out into traffic, it could be very dangerous. There would also be concerns for other road users trying to exit the motorway being blocked off by the platoon, as well as restricted vision from adverse weather conditions. The responsibility of the driver is immense.”

Alternative road transportation measures, such as an articulated trailer or road trains, were not given the consideration they merited, according to John.

“A much more viable option would be to use two articulated trailers, which have been trialled successfully. Many countries which use platooning, such as the US and South Africa, are much more suited due to the vast space and distances covered. They also use road trains, which could have been pursued by the authorities here,” said John.

John Parry, Chair of the irtec Steering Group, said that while he understands the purpose of trialling the semi-autonomous vehicles, and the need to embrace new technologies, safety must remain the absolute priority.

He said: “The number of intersections that we have on our motorways will make it very difficult to manage, especially if cars don’t realise there’s a platoon and try to go between vehicles. The safety aspect must be paramount and I think it overrides the possible benefits. The trials need to answer these important concerns.”

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