Self-driving dump trucks are being trialled in the UK as the organisation in charge of England’s strategic road network aims to speed up its roadworks.

Highways England, the government-run company in question, says the autonomous vehicles have the potential to work 24 hours a day, helping to reduce the amount of time roadworks are in place. The organisation also claims the vehicles could improve site safety by reducing the risk of accidents.

However, before the vehicles enter service nationwide, they must first undergo a trial period. The heavy machinery has already been tested in Australia, but one of the autonomous leviathans is now being trialled on the A14 roadworks between Cambridge and Huntingdon.

The £150,000 trial, financed by the organisation’s innovation designated fund, sees the vehicle used to transport large quantities of earth around the site. Following a remotely programmed and predetermined route, the vehicle can detect and avoid obstacles, such as other vehicles, while it moves through the controlled test environment.

Once the test is complete, Highways England and its partner, earthworks services supplier CA Blackwell, hope to roll out the vehicles at roadworks across the country. However, it isn’t expected to be a quick process, with Highways England estimating a two- or three-year wait before motorists will be able to see driverless trucks become fully operational.

M6 roadworks on major UK multiple lane highway

Julian Lamb, Highways England’s deputy project director for the A14, said the trucks could allow roadworks to become safer and more efficient in the future.

“We’re increasingly looking to technological advances to help us safely bring improvements to drivers on England’s motorways and major A roads,” he said. “Road construction has changed massively over the years and the testing of trucks such as these promises to allow us to work efficiently, speeding up roadworks, giving more protection to road workers, and moving jobs to other skilled areas.

“The trial we are leading with our partner, CA Blackwell, will enable the construction industry as a whole to be in a more informed position to make key decisions about autonomy on UK construction sites.”

Works Exit roadworks sign on UK motorway

Niall Fraser, director of CA Blackwell, said the firm was thankful for Highways England’s funding and the support of its technology suppliers.

“We are delighted to have received the backing of Highways England and their designated funds grant for this trial,” he said. “We are also grateful for the support and commitment of our technology providers in making it a reality.”

Dump truck photos courtesy of Highways England