Friday, August 25, 2017

Funding for Truck Platoons Brings Mixed Reaction from Freight Transport and Road Haulage Bodies

New Government Trial to Test Out New Technology
Shipping News Feature
UK – Regular readers will remember the major exercise last year which saw 6 independent truck manufacturers carry out a successful trial of platooning in which autonomous vehicles travelled in convoy right across Europe, followed by subsequent successful trials in the US. Now the Freight Transport Association (FTA), members of which operate more than 200,000 trucks on Britain’s roads, have given full support to the announcement today that there will be an £8.1 million feasibility study funded to trial the system fully in the UK.

The study will look specifically at how the technique will affect road safety and its benefits or otherwise for UK business, congestion of the road network and if it has any effect on the environment. The FTA speculates that the system of linking trucks using wireless technology to control speeds etc. means the consistent fleet performance will result in lower fuel consumption and reduced CO2 emissions.

What concerns the FTA most is the speed at which the results of the study, which it is plainly optimistic about, are put into practice.Christopher Snelling, FTA’s Head of National Policy says, after first announcing the platooning trial in November 2016, it is imperative that government now moves forward quickly and efficiently to enable the logistics sector to plan efficiently for the future, commenting:

“Technology is the solution to emissions, road safety and managing costs. Platooning could be a real opportunity to optimise logistics on the road, we need to know if it is the way forward as soon as possible. [It] could be an innovative means of reducing fuel use so saving costs and reducing carbon and air quality emissions. Driving closely together, platoons of trucks take up less space on the road, and travelling at constant speeds can help improve traffic flows and reduce tailbacks.

“However, the system has to be shown to be safe on the roads and to deliver the promised benefits. The sooner the trial takes place, the sooner the UK logistics industry, which represents 11% of the UK’s non-financial business economy, can know if this will be the right route for the future.”

Funding from the trial comes from the government and Highways England and will be carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory and initially will use test tracks to find the optimum distance between trucks. Transport minister Paul Maynard said:

"We are investing in technology that will improve people's lives. Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion. But first we must make sure the technology is safe and works well on our roads, and that's why we are investing in these trials."

Others however have expressed doubts with AA president Edmund King pointing out that a three-truck platoon is longer than half a Premier League football pitch and adding:

"We all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduced congestion but we are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it. We have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries. Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America."

One of the AA’s main concerns is that the platoon can obscure road signs. but one assumes that the trucks integrated into the column will be clearly indicating such. The RAC meanwhile also commented that the jostling of all vehicle types on the country’s motorways can produce uncertain results. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) meanwhile is also somewhat cautious about the system with RHA chief executive Richard Burnett saying:

“Of course we welcome improvements to the way the road freight industry works and we understand the benefits that such a mode of operation would bring. However, currently the focus seems to be on the technology behind the system. Safety has to come first and it cannot be compromised. It is crucial that this element of the concept gets the highest priority.”