The Department for Transport (DfT), in partnership with Highways England, announced £8.1 million of funding to support the trials, which it said would take place in three stages, culminating in the testing on major roads.
Under the trials planned, up to three HGVs will travel in convoy, with the lead vehicle controlling acceleration and braking of all the vehicles in that convoy. The government said a driver would be "ready to take control at any time" during the trials.
"Initial test track based research will help decide details such as distance between vehicles and on which roads the tests could take place," the DfT said. "Trials are expected on major roads by the end of 2018. Each phase of the testing will only begin when there is robust evidence that it can be done safely."
'Platooning' could deliver environmental benefits, the government said.
"A row of lorries driving closer together could see the front truck pushing the air out of the way, making the vehicles in the convoy more efficient, lowering emissions and improving air quality," the DfT said.
Transport minister Paul Maynard said: "We are investing in technology that will improve people’s lives. Advances such as lorry platooning could benefit businesses through cheaper fuel bills and other road users thanks to lower emissions and less congestion. But first we must make sure the technology is safe and works well on our roads, and that’s why we are investing in these trials."
The trials will be conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL). A feasibility study funded by the government recommended that platooning trials take place so that the benefits and viability of the technology could be examined.
Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief executive, said: "The trial has the potential to demonstrate how greater automation of vehicles – in this instance, HGVs – can deliver improvements in safety, better journeys for road users and reduction in vehicle emissions. Investing in this research shows we care about those using our roads, the economy and the environment, and safety will be integral as we take forward this work with TRL."
Rob Wallis, chief executive of TRL, said: "The UK has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the world in trialling connected vehicle platoons in a real-world environment. TRL and its consortium of leading international partners, have the practical and technical knowledge gained from previous projects to understand what is required to put a connected vehicle platoon on to UK roads safely. The team are now taking that expertise and uniquely applying it within live traffic operations."
The platooning trials are the latest plans outlined by the UK government to support connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) technologies. Earlier this month, the government published new cybersecurity guidance for driverless cars. Driverless cars are due to be tested on UK motorways in 2019.
A new accessibility action plan proposed by DfT (73-page / 1.82MB PDF) has highlighted the potential to use CAV technologies to "offer benefits for people with mobility impairments".
In its consultation paper, DfT said the government's Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) is helping to fund "a number of exciting real-world trials of CAV technologies in cars, shuttles, and pods, which are actively exploring how people with mobility impairment can benefit".