New automatic cone-laying vehicles designed to improve safety at roadworks have been trialled on the public road for the first time. The vehicles, which can be operated by the driver alone, eliminate the need for workers to lay cones from the back of the truck – a task that can be arduous and dangerous for those involved.

According to Highways England, the government-run organisation in charge of the nation’s motorways and major A-roads, says existing vehicles need two people to manually lift and drop the cones in almost all weathers. With traffic rushing past and much of the work undertaken at night, it can be dangerous, and the workers can lift up to 10 tonnes of equipment per shift.

The new vehicles, which could be in widespread use by the end of the year, just need a driver to operate them, improving safety and freeing up two workers to carry out other tasks. The vehicles have been in the pipeline for some time, with the first trials beginning at the start of the year.

So far, two vehicles have been developed. The first, created by Highway Care, is being trialled on the Highways England road network, while the second, developed by competitor King Highway Products, is currently undergoing testing in the Netherlands. That vehicle is expected to undergo off-road tests in the UK soon.

The Highway Care vehicle, however, has been busy arranging traffic management cones on the A5 and M54 in Shropshire. It is also scheduled to undergo further testing on the M4 in Berkshire.

“The implications of these vehicles in protecting the safety of workers are immense and we are delighted that testing is progressing so well,” said Martin Bolt, head of lean and continuous improvement at Highways England. “By taking the human element out of laying cones we are eliminating one of the greatest risks for road workers.

“We have received a lot of support from the industry as a whole for the automated vehicle and we are now getting some very positive feedback from those workers who have been trialling the Highways Care prototype on the live roads network. If this testing proves as successful as we anticipate, motorists could be spotting more of these automated cone laying vehicles on the roads by the end of the year.”

Meanwhile, Stuart Pegg, general foreman at infrastructure and construction firm Kier, used the vehicle to put out traffic management on the A5 and said the vehicle exceeded expectations.

“It was great to be invited to participate in this ground-breaking advancement in traffic management,” he said. “We have ironed out a few initial teething problems and I found the automated cone laying vehicle easy to use. It performed above my personal expectations.”

UK roadworks cones and directional signs on motorway