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Trials of semi-automated lorry convoys could take place along M20

By Paul Francis

Trials of an initiative involving convoys of semi-automated lorries could take place in Kent along stretches of the M20.

Kent County Council is urging the government to trial the scheme along what is one of the busiest motorways in the UK largely because it is the main route to Dover.

Ministers announced last year that £8.1m would be available to fund trials of technology for semi-automated convoys.

M20 near Charing
M20 near Charing

It involves up to three HGVs travelling in convoy with acceleration, braking and steering controlled by a lead vehicle - known as platooning.

County transport chiefs say in a report they would “welcome the opportunity for a pilot of connected and autonomous freight vehicles along the M20 to the M25 along lane one only, specifically to assess how platooning of such vehicles could maintain fluidity of traffic at the port.

"This would complement the A2/M2 connected corridor trial in Kent looking at in-vehicle messaging.”

Haulage groups say they welcome the idea of trials but the benefits could be relatively modest.

Congestion on M20
Congestion on M20

Chris Snelling, head of UK Policy at the Freight Transport Association, said the technology was already in use in other European countries and the benefits were likely to be around fuel savings and limiting pollution emissions.

“We are very confident that it is safe - each lorry would still have a driver so the advantages will not be in reducing manpower - you will still need the same level of experience and expertise.

“Kent would certainly be a good place to carry out a trial given its importance and the number of lorries running through the county to the ports.”

Some have questioned whether large convoys could obscure signs and exit junctions - particularly where they could be using the hard shoulder as part of a separate initiative for “smart” motorways.

The Department for Transport said it expected the trials to begin later this year but had yet to identify particular roads.

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