Driverless cars have been a source of public and media interest for a while, with such an alien concept invoking a certain sense of intrigue and distrust. The question of how comfortable the average driver would feel sitting in a car entirely driven by a computer has been top of the debate, as well as the question, is this truly safe?
It might surprise you therefore to learn that as a part of the 2016 Budget, the government has announced plans to launch ‘lorry platooning’ trails by the end of 2017. The technology enabling lorry platooning allows for 10 drone lorries to be computer operated. All of the lorries are linked together and piloted remotely by a driver in the lead lorry. The driver in the lead lorry is able to control the steering, acceleration and braking for all the other vehicles in the road train.
Will it be safe?
In order to ensure safety, each of the drone lorries will have an ‘attendant driver’ in the cab. This driver will be responsible for activating the vehicle’s highway pilot system, which uses cameras and radars to help guide the vehicle autonomously. Additionally, if there is any type of emergency or the link to the lead lorry is broken, the attendant driver is then responsible for taking control of the vehicle. An official date has yet to be announced as to when the tests will begin, although they are expected to take place on the M6 in Cumbria. The rationale being that this particular stretch has less traffic as well as fewer entrances and exits.
However, not everyone is confident in the new technology. The AA has expressed concerns that the convoys will likely increase congestion on motorways, rather than reduce it as intended. Congestion could be caused by the convoy blocking slip roads, which could make it hard for other motorists to navigate a motorway. Similarly, the Road Haulage Association, which represents the lorry industry, is concerned that the public will assume that autonomous vehicles would have no human driver behind the wheel. The organisation is worried that this misconception could further damage public perception of haulage companies.
It is hoped that if the technology can be successfully implemented, that contrary to these views it will in fact increase safety and improve lorry fuel efficiency, which could have a positive effect on the overall cost of products.
Gareth Roberts from Jelf comments, “ From a haulage client perspective I’m not sure what the benefits of this would be, as financially they would still have to pay for a qualified driver to be on board each vehicle, only they won’t be doing the usual job they’ll be sitting and waiting just in case they’re needed. Will follow vehicle attendants be paying enough attention if an incident occurred and they needed to take over? Insurance wise it opens up a greater question on liability in the event of an incident, who is to blame, is it the lead driver of the platoon? The haulier company? The manufacturer of the technology or the standby driver in the respective lorry involved in the incident? It seems quite a minefield, so it remains to be seen how trials go before we can seriously answer these questions.”
The outcome remains to be seen.
Source: Zywave, Motor Trade Commercial Insurance Pro-File 2nd Quarter 2016