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Plan for cars to drive themselves

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Plans are being finalised on an innovative initiative which could see cars "drive themselves".

Tests will start next year on the EU scheme called Sartre (Safe Road Trains for the Environment), which could become a reality within 10 years. A "carpooling" roadtrain could be used on motorways, which would consist of six to eight vehicles. Sartre would have a lead vehicle which would communicate with the following cars via a navigation system and a transmitter/receiver unit.

The occupants of the following vehicles would be able to chat on mobile phones, read the paper and relax.

This lead vehicle - possibly a taxi a bus or a truck - will drive "normally" and effectively "do the motoring" for the rest of the roadtrain.

Drivers approaching their destination will take over control of their own vehicle, leave the convoy by exiting off to the side and then continue on their own to their destination. The other vehicles in the road train close the gap and continue on their way until the convoy splits up.

The road trains increase safety and reduce environmental impact thanks to lower fuel consumption compared with cars being driven individually.

The cars in the train are close to each other, exploiting the resultant lower air drag. The energy saving is expected to be in the region of 20%. Road capacity will also be able to be utilised more efficiently.

The Sartre project will be conducted for three years starting in 2011 on test tracks in the UK, Spain and Sweden and eventually on public roads in Spain.

© Press Association 2010