Development teams have carried out the first combined test of “vehicle platooning,” a European-Union sponsored program aimed at changing the way cars and trucks use Europe’s roads.

The test was carried out on the Volvo proving ground near Gothenburg, Sweden, as part of the SARTRE project.

"This is a major milestone for this important European research program," said Tom Robinson, an executive at consultants Ricardo who is the SARTRE project coordinator.

“Platooning offers the prospect of improved road safety, better road space utilization, improved driver comfort on long journeys and reduced fuel consumption,” he added.

In a vehicle platoon, as envisaged by the SARTRE project,a professional driver in a lead vehicle is followed by a line of other vehicles. Each car measures the distance, speed and direction and adjusts to the car in front. All vehicles are totally detached and can leave the procession at any time. But once in the platoon, drivers can relax and do other things while the platoon proceeds toward its destination. Moreover, human errors, which, according to some studies, account for 80 pc of all traffic accidents, would no longer be a factor.

SARTRE, which stands for Safe Road Trains for the Environment, is funded in part by the  European Commission. Next to Ricardo, companies and organizations participating are Volvo Cars, Volvo Technology, Idiada and Robotiker-Tecnalia of Spain, Institut für Kraftfahrwesen Aachen (IKA) of Germany, and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.

The project’s immediate aim is to allow road trains to operate on public roads; to develop technology that makes platooning feasible; to show the benefits in improving safety, lowering emissions and reducing traffic congestion; and to build a prototype that will help convince future users and authorities the system is viable.