Truck Platooning, the Future of Sustainable Transport?

In an industry where evolving technologies are key to managing costs, lowering emissions and tackling road safety, could self driving technologies be a real opportunity to optimise logistics on the road? Is truck platooning the future of sustainable transport?

According to the Freight Transport Association, truck platooning could save costs, congestion and carbon. In a recent announcement from the Department for Transport and Highways, £8.1 million is to be invested in the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), an independent organisation to conduct trials including simulation studies and driver training before moving onto a test track and finally, public roads by the end of 2018.

TRL has already conducted some preliminary feasibility studies on the government’s instruction and platooning trials on UK motorways were originally due to start in late 2016, but it was thought the project had been delayed due to negative feedback from various HGV manufacturers.

So What is Platooning?

Platooning is one of the simpler ways of harnessing self-driving technology. While the truck at the front of a convoy remains under human control, trailing vehicles follow its lead autonomously. Wireless connections providing vehicle-to-vehicle communication keep all trucks talking to each other so the self-driving members of the convoy can immediately respond to changes in the lead lorry’s direction and speed. Using the latest driving technologies, operators can move large quantities of goods at consistent speeds, lowering fuel consumption and C02 emissions.

But as 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 plans forward quickly and efficiently to enable the logistics sector to plan efficiently for the future.”

“Platooning 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,” says Mr Snelling. “However, the system has to be shown to be safe on the roads and to deliver the promised benefits.”

Is Platooning Suitable for the UK?

Not everyone is convinced that the UK is the best place for platooning trials, with the AA and RAC Foundation already voicing concerns. In an interview with the BBC, AA president Edmund King stated; “we all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduce 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.”

So, could this revolutionary way of getting our goods from A to B solve the current HGV driver shortage in the UK? And could it have an adverse effect on driver recruitment agencies such as Silver Arrow? Graham Lackey, Managing Director of Brit European and Silver Arrow does not believe this will be the case stating that he does not see in the foreseeable future, a day when there will be driver less trucks. He went on to state;

“I can foresee expert driver attendants/pilots for example who have a far less stressful role than todays skilled HGV drivers as they are there to do the difficult maneuvering and monitor the system not to do the ‘drudgery’ of motorway driving.”
“There are benefits of platooning on regular trunk routes and main motorways for safety and to reduce congestion, but in my opinion it will be a long time before the driver is replaced for the ‘final mile’ delivery and technology for all road users reaches the same advanced level for this type of automation to work safely and effectively. Aircraft can fly and land themselves and have been able to for many years but we don’t travel on pilot less planes.”

There is no denying that advances in technology can greatly benefit the way we do business, however, there is no substitute for the human mind, or a quality HGV driver that comes with years of experience.

Silver Arrow

Silver Arrow are a specialist recruitment agency that focuses on the recruitment and placement of temporary and permanent drivers of all classes. We offer temporary, temporary to permanent or permanent assignments, with a focus on compliance and quality, 24/7 customer service, and a simple streamlined administration and timesheet approval process for our customers.

We specialize in placing our drivers into a range of sectors including general haulage – articulated (LGV CE) and rigid (LGV C) transport, fuel and chemical distribution (Pet. Reg. and ADR), automotive distribution (car and low loader), self-unload (HIAB and truck mounted forklift), and IPAF.

As a group, we are proud to be ISO 9001 accredited and recent winners of the Motor Transport and the Automotive Supply Chain Global Awards. By being built on a strong foundation we are able to deliver a professional, compliant, and cost-effective service to our clients.