Mike Stevens | Jun 2, 2011

Sometime between now and 2020, if Volvo is right, you'll be able to do your make-up behind the wheel without danger or fear of reproach. Shave, plow through a bowl of Coco Pops or read the paper, and never once look at the bothersome traffic.

That's what the European Commission, Volvo and engineering partner Ricardo UK see in our future.

Since 2009, Volvo, Ricardo and a number of development partners have been working on a project called SARTRE: Safe Road Trains for the Environment.

Volvo and its development partners are not alone in exploring future-transport solutions, Google is working to bring completely autonomous cars to the road; reportedly, with some success.

The SARTRE project however is focused on developing technology to allow motorists to join on-road convoys - giving over control of their vehicles to a system that allows a professionally-driven lead car to direct the passage of every other car in the 'train'.

In practice, the system would likely see motorists pay a fee to an organisation that employs professional drivers to lead road trains along Europe's highways.

By taking vehicle control out of the hands of drivers, if only for short periods, the project aims to improve not only road safety, but also fuel consumption and traffic congestion.

Speaking with British magazine Autocar this week, Volvo Senior Safety Engineer Thomas Broberg said that closed-road trials held over the past year have successfully trialed the technology with a lead car and two additional vehicles.

“Road trains allow a driver to use their time better, drive safer, reduce congestion and improve the environment,” Broberg told Autocar.

“You’re always following another car, so why not let the driving be done by someone else?”

Field trials on open roads will be carried out in Sweden toward the end of this year. As with any new technology however, acceptance will be the key. It might work, but how many of us would use it?

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