The invisible truckers are coming

25th August 2016

lorry22Right across the big country on the other side of the Atlantic, a whole mythology has grown around the gear-jamming heroes of the 18-wheeler big rigs. On our crowded island, with more than four times as many trucks per mile of road, truckers do not enjoy quite the same degree of public reverence. As we overtake on the motorways, it is a rare car driver who offers a cheery wave to a trucker. Human nature being what it is, though, we do tend to glance across as we go past.

Be warned. The day is coming when a fleeting sideways look may cause a shock. In fact, glancing over at a string of HGVs may mean a whole series of double-takes. The invisible truckers are soon to be seen – or, more correctly, not seen – on British roads. Before long, a disbelieving motorist will be passing an empty cab, with the steering wheel apparently moving of its own accord. Seconds later, the truck in front will be seen to be equally driverless, as will the one ahead of that.

This will not be an optical illusion, but a very real manifestation of truck platooning. After trials elsewhere, the UK’s roads are to become a proving ground for the astonishing concept of the driverless truck convoy. The idea is that a series of trucks is linked electronically so that they are all controlled by the driver of the lead vehicle. When the leader leaves the motorway, the rest all follow. The truck in front slows right down for congestion at a junction, all the others do likewise. When the front truck has a blowout and has to head for the hard shoulder, the rest are right on its tail.

Some people, somewhere, think that this is a good idea. They probably do not include the truckers whose jobs would become redundant if truck platooning were to become popular. Anybody missing a motorway exit through being blocked from the correct lane by a blind convoy is likely to be equally unimpressed.

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