As any seasoned member of the haulage industry can tell you, information can make the difference between a passable service and a great one. A well-informed front-end can ensure that clients are kept in the loop and that their expectations are kept well in line with what is achievable in the field. A looped-in dispatcher can direct the company’s drivers with utmost efficiency, and a well-informed driver can be aware of diversions and heavy traffic. |
With this in mind, a large part of Highways England’s incoming upgrade centres on information technology, including the prospect of a “Wi-Fi road”. Such a technology would help to ensure that haulage infrastructure and frontline workers were always working in perfect unison, giving drivers unprecedented access to breakdown and traffic warnings, as well as advance notice of any diversions they may have to take.
Upcoming Connectivity Works
In addition to the connectivity upgrades, the plan proposes to investigate the possible utility of radar and sonar technology in various motorways and tunnels, including Surrey’s logistically important Hindhead tunnel. These technologies would be used to improve upon the accuracy and reliability of current methods of breakdown detection, giving haulage drivers, other road users, police and transport authorities early notice of any problems in these areas.
As well as breakdown detection, Highways England’s technological upgrades include plans for advanced sensors to be built along existing motorways in order to give detailed updates regarding road condition, allowing maintenance to be scheduled exactly when and where it’s needed. Ultimately, such a plan would keep roads in top condition as well as cutting down on unnecessary roadworks - keeping things running as smoothly as possible.
Introducing: Autonomous Vehicles
Perhaps the most dramatic announcement in Highways’ England road improvement plans is their intent to introduce autonomous vehicles in the very near future. Indeed, the aforementioned improvements are all part of the effort to begin testing of autonomous vehicles by the end of 2017, with a view to making autonomous cars a part of everyday life. Proponents of autonomous vehicles say that they could be vital in closing the haulage skills gap, and that they could be valuable in other sectors as well (e.g. driverless taxis).
Where Does that Leave the Haulage Worker?
However, existing drivers are understandably worried that the advent of autonomous vehicles, some of which may not require drivers at all, may compromise their job security. The danger of this depends on the degree of autonomy of the vehicles. The early versions are quite likely to require the presence of a driver who is able to take control of the vehicle in certain situations, such as driving conditions that the machine is not equipped to handle. Should testing be successful, existing haulage companies thinking of using autonomous vehicles may wish to consider offering re-training opportunities for current drivers in order to avoid job loss.
In any case, the degree of success autonomous vehicles will meet, as well as their eventual impact on the haulage industry as a whole, is something that still remains to be seen.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting logistics professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching haulage jobs with available drivers. Over 4,000 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.
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