Driverless lorries are to be tested in “platoons” on British motorways as part of a government drive to bring major improvements to journeys.
According to reports, the chancellor, George Osborne, is expected to confirm funding for the initiative in his budget next week.
A stretch of the M6 near Carlisle has been earmarked as a potential test route for the automated juggernauts, which will be able to travel in a tightly packed convoy that improves fuel consumption by reducing drag, the Times reports.
Steering, acceleration and braking of the road train will be controlled by a driver in the lead vehicle, the newspaper said, although the drones will have a driver in each cab as a safety precaution to regain control in the event of an emergency.
There are hopes the technology could improve road safety.
However, there are many obstacles ahead of achieving the driverless “utopia” on the roads, warned Paul Watters, the head of roads and transport policy for the AA.
He said: “Motorists will certainly be very nervous about the prospect and will need considerable reassurance that it will be safe. Motorways are pretty congested in the UK, they are about the most congested in Europe, and there will be problems in how they access and exit the roads.”
He explained that a procession of driverless lorries could block slip roads, meaning they would have to use the offside lane. “There are lots of logistical problems,” he added.
The Department for Transport (DfT) could not confirm the location of the test route or timetable and would not speculate on whether the research will receive funding in the budget, although it said planning for trials was under way.
A spokeswoman said: “New technology has the potential to bring major improvements to journeys and the UK is in a unique position to lead the way for the testing of connected and driverless vehicles.
“We are planning trials of HGV platoons – which enable vehicles to move in a group so they use less fuel – and will be in a position to say more in due course.”