Status update  

14 July 2022.  The full and final technical report on the trials is now published on the National Highways website here.




What is HGV platooning?

Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) platooning is the use of technology to allow HGVs to travel safely in close proximity at speed with the driver of the lead vehicle controlling the speed, acceleration and braking of the whole ‘platoon’.

Platooning is not driverless technology; all HGVs in a platoon will have a driver ready at all times to take over manual control or leave or dissolve the platoon if necessary.

Is HGV platooning the same as a single cabin pulling two or more trailers?

No. The concept consists of multiple truck drivers wirelessly connecting their HGVs for a certain period of their journey in order to be as efficient as possible. Trucks, or lorries in the platoon are able to disconnect from the platoon in order to reach their own specific delivery destination.

What is the UK’s platooning road trial and what is the aim?

International research suggests HGV platooning has the potential to deliver significant savings in fuel and efficiency, reduced emissions and road safety improvements. What is unknown is whether these benefits can be achieved in the real world on UK roads. HelmUK is the name of a research project which aims to independently evaluate the potential benefits of HGV platooning in a real world commercial environment on UK roads to help inform future decision making.

Three lorries will be specially adapted with platooning technology to enable them to travel in a platoon, with speed and braking of following lorries reacting to the actions of the lead lorry. The technology allows the space between the lorries to be substantially decreased without increasing the risk.

Extensive off-road testing will be done to verify the safety and operational performance of the system before any on-road trials take place. The trials will be in a series of phases incrementally building up to transporting goods commercially, so that the effectiveness and suitability of the technology can be assessed for use on UK roads.

A control group of HGVs carrying the same loads and following the same routes, but with the platooning technology turned off, will be used to compare effectiveness.

Who is running the trial and who is funding the trial?

HelmUK is run by a consortium of partners led by TRL on behalf of the Department for Transport and Highways England (now National Highways).

Partners include:

  • Apollo Vehicle Safety
  • DAF
  • DHL
  • Costain
  • Millbrook Proving Ground
  • Ricardo
  • TNO
  • TransportPR
  • Transport Research Laboratory
  • Transport Systems Catapult (now Connected Places Catapult)

Is this the first trial of its kind?

No. HGV platooning technology has been extensively trialled across other parts of Europe and in the USA to demonstrate the technology. These UK trials, however, will be the first to include a realistic commercial operation.

What is the timescale for the trial?

HelmUK began in September 2017. The technology development, extensive safety testing, and driver training have been completed and were undertaken without the use of the road network. On-road trials are scheduled to take place from late 2020 through to late 2021. The project is aiming to report its findings in 2022.

Where will the trial take place?

Off road trials will be undertaken virtually using TRL’s high fidelity DigiCar and DigiTruck simulators as well as at Millbrook’s Proving Ground. The on-road trial route will be selected after in-depth consideration and risk assessment between the partners involved: TRL, Department for Transport, Highways England and DHL - the commercial partner in the trial.

We anticipate that initially the on-road trial will focus on quieter, less complex stretches of dual carriageway roads and motorways. Local authorities, emergency services and road safety groups will be kept fully informed throughout the trials.

How many lorries will there be in a platoon and what will the spacing be?

The platoons in this trial will consist of up to three HGVs. The distance between lorries will be tested during off-road trials. The spacing of lorries for on-road operations will be determined to maximise fuel savings and efficiencies while ensuring safety.

Will the lorries be transporting real goods?

During the early stages of the trials the lorries will run without a load. After thorough testing, the lorries will be running with loads to replicate commercial operations.

A control group of journeys involving lorries carrying the same loads over the same routes without using the wireless platooning technology will be used as a comparison to test effectiveness.

This trial will not involve the transportation of hazardous goods.

When will the results of the trial be published?

It is currently expected that the project will be completed in 2022. The publication of results will be confirmed by the Department for Transport and Highways England following this. 


What is the longer term vision for a HGV platooning scenario?

The long term vision proposes that HGV drivers on different routes but with stretches of driving on the same section of road(s) are able to connect wirelessly for that selected period of time. During this time, they will form a 'platoon' whereby the driver of the lead vehicle will control braking and acceleration, leaving following drivers to only need to steer. It will be possible to leave the platoon at any point, when the route is no longer appropriate for all drivers.

If the trials are successful, when can we expect to see commercial platoons on our roads?

The uptake of platooning technology will depend upon interest from the commercial sector and the endorsement of the Department for Transport and Highways England.

Will the lorries be driverless or is the intention to enable driverless lorries eventually?

This is not a trial of driverless lorries. Every platooning lorry will have a driver in the cab and the drivers will have their hands on the wheel controlling the lateral movement of the lorry.

The drivers can take full manual control of their lorry whenever they need to.

The intention of this trial is to test and validate the benefits and effectiveness of the wireless platoon technology on UK roads.

What does this mean for the number of HGV drivers that will be employed?

All HGVs will require a driver. Therefore platooning should not impact the amount of driving jobs available.

What are the benefits of HGV platooning to road hauliers and the public?

Platooning technology has the potential to deliver a wide range of benefits, not only to the logistics industry, but to all road users and the environment.

1) Road safety: instantaneous automatic braking between the lorries could improve road safety in the event of an unexpected deceleration.

2) Congestion: The reduced distance between lorries means that lorries take up less road space, potentially increasing traffic capacity and traffic flow.

3) Environmental: In previous trials significant savings in fuel efficiency have been identified, with corresponding reductions in emissions. This is due to the lorries travelling closer together and decreasing wind resistance.

4) Business efficiency: This has the potential to deliver significant cost savings to the logistics industry, which will ultimately be reflected in the price of goods transported by road. The hauliers in the Advisory Group are helping ensure that the benefits and constraints of using platoons for their businesses are correctly identified and assessed.

5) UK as an industry leader: this real-world trial shows the UK is supportive of applying advances in technology to support the logistics industry, the wider economy as well as improvements in road safety.

How much fuel could HGV platooning technology save and what is the impact on emissions?

When high-sided HGVs travel closely together, the airflow around the leading vehicle envelops the vehicles in its slipstream, so the following vehicles use less fuel to maintain the same speed. The vehicles following the lead vehicle benefit the most; however the lead vehicle also experiences reduced aerodynamic force, therefore saving fuel. Various studies carried out in other countries have identified fuel savings between 4% and 30% however the UK trials will determine if savings can be realised on UK roads when operating commercially. Using less fuel directly reduces exhaust emissions including carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Platooning technology could reduce unnecessary acceleration and braking, leading to more fuel efficiency on the road.

Is the technology safe, roadworthy and reliable?

Off-road safety testing of the trial lorries will be on-going and will need to satisfy stringent standards set by the Department for Transport, Highways England and TRL before any on-road trial begins.

The vehicles used will be compliant with all legal and safety requirements. The project will ensure that trials comply with the Department of Transport's Code of Practice for the testing of automated vehicle technologies at all times.

The lorries used in the trial will already be fitted with the latest safety equipment in addition to the wireless platooning technology. Each lorry will always have a driver in the cab, who can take manual control of the lorry at any time.

The drivers chosen for the trial will be highly experienced and will receive comprehensive training in the new technology and safety procedures before the trial begins. The project will use simulation technology to determine driver training needs.

Can the wireless technology be hacked?

The wireless communications are secured and the project has the support of the UK's cyber security experts. Regardless of technology fitted to the trial lorries the drivers will always be in control and will operate the lorry normally when necessary. Cyber security is an important aspect that is being considered by the consortium. Adequate protection measures will be ensured before on-road trials commence.

How can we rely on the drivers to pay attention if the driving is automated?

The lead driver controls the acceleration and braking and drives in the normal way. Drivers of the following lorries will retain steering control for their lorries. This together with the specialist driver training will ensure drivers maintain concentration and alertness and thus are ready to take full control if necessary.

What happens if the lead driver has an emergency or the lead lorry breaks down?

In the event of any emergency any of the platoon drivers can disengage and take full manual control of their lorries.

What speed can HGVs in a platoon travel at?

HGVs in the platoon will have the same speed limit as other commercial vehicles and travel at a maximum speed of 56mph.

How will other drivers know what to do?

All drivers should comply with existing road traffic law and there is no expectation that drivers of other road vehicles will need to do anything differently. This study will carefully monitor the interaction between the platoon HGVs and other road users to fully capture and understand all potential issues that arise.

How will we know if lorries are in a platoon?

During off road testing it will be decided if the lorries should be marked in some way to identify them as a ‘platoon’. If they are not marked, they will look like normal lorries on the road and behave in the same way, except for travelling closer together than usual.

How can a car overtake a platoon of three lorries?

Trials are expected to take place only on motorways where there will be an overtaking lane for other road users in the usual way.

Will the HGV platoon be able to use the overtaking lane?

The trial will explore the best procedures for situations such as overtaking. In situations where overtaking could cause serious inconvenience to other road users, platoon drivers will always have the option to disengage from the platoon and proceed independently, reengaging further ahead.

What happens if I get trapped and can’t join or exit at my junction?

All the trial lorries will be driven by specially trained drivers who will be aware of the potential problems and be able to take control and disengage from the platoon if it is causing a difficulty to other road users. The optimal way to deal with junctions and slip roads will be tested during the trials.

What happens at roundabouts?

Lorries travelling in a platoon will not be using any roads with roundabouts.

What happens if a motorist tries to squeeze into the gap between two lorries?

If any driver in the platoon believes that safety in the platoon has been compromised they will immediately disengage from the platoon and move to a safe distance.

The platooning system will also have a built-in capability to detect intercepting cars and automatically react by increasing the following distance or disengaging the platoon.

Who would be liable in the result of an accident?

Every lorry will have a driver present throughout the duration of the trials who has complete responsibility for the safe operation of the lorry. The driver will be specially trained and legally responsible, just as they would be if the lorry did not have platooning technology.