World-first platooning trial finds technology is safe

A multi-year trial to ascertain the effectiveness of platooning technology on the UK road network has drawn its conclusions, and found that the technology could be safely used.

The HelmUK trial of platooning across the strategic road network – the first realistic platooning trial to have taken place on a live road network globally– saw vehicles take to the roads in 2020 and 2021.

Platooning, the practice of multiple vehicles travelling together via electronic or mechanical means to decrease the space between them, has been shown in some environments to have multiple benefits including better air quality, less road congestion and fuel savings.

The HelmUK trial has involved three HGVs being electronically coupled while making journeys, testing out if these benefits would be applicable in a real-world scenario. All HGVs had drivers, and the coupling was only to ensure that the distance between vehicles was maintained. The trial has been subject to various complications due to Covid restrictions and associated impacts, and has drawn robust conclusions to inform future work.

The trial, supported by TRL, National Highways and the Department for Transport, has shown that platooning can be utilised safely on the UK road network, with no additional risks highlighted by the trial.

Although the trial showed it was possible to be safely carried out, improvements to air quality and fuel savings have not been as significant as predicted.

Joanna White, Interim Roads Development Director at National Highways, said: “To have been able to carry out this world-first trial despite the complications caused by Covid and other factors is an achievement in of itself, and we’ve learned a lot from it.

“Safety is our first imperative, and we are happy that this trial was carried out safely and has shown that platooning is viable from that perspective.

“We’re hopeful that the robust knowledge generated from this trial will be used to inform future research and development worldwide.”

You can read the full report in the trial here.

(Picture – TRL)

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