Lawmaker wants NC to be among first states to have driverless delivery vehicles

Posted September 21, 2021 7:02 p.m. EDT

— A bill that passed a Senate committee on Tuesday would allow driverless delivery wagons operate on North Carolina streets while setting some ground rules for them.

The Domino's pizza chain is already testing such vehicles in Houston and demonstrates the technology it in some of its television commercials.

"When people see those commercials, they ask us, 'Hey, when are we going to get that in North Carolina?'" said Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln. "So, hopefully, we get it here sooner rather than later.”

Saine is sponsoring the bill, which already cleared the House with little opposition and could be before the full Senate later this week.

Under the proposal, the vehicles couldn't go faster than 40 mph, would have to be fully insured and must follow all traffic laws. They also would have to pull over and let drivers pass them once five or more cars are behind them.

"It’s not impeding traffic, but not so fast it's out of control or giving the public concern," he said. "Of course, it has to obey the speed limit, so it can't go over the speed limit either."

The vehicles are fully autonomous – no one is remotely steering them unless they get into trouble – and can carry only cargo. They use navigation technology and LIDAR, a remote sensing method that uses laser pulses to measure distance, to travel along surface streets.

In the past five years, at least five people have died nationwide in crashes involving autonomous cars. But Saine said they’re getting safer.

"The technology's gotten so much better," he said. "They are safe now, on-the-road tested. Six other states are already doing it."

If North Carolina is among the first states to allow the driverless delivery vehicles, Saine said, there’s a good chance they’ll be deployed here earlier rather than later.

"It's gone through lots of tests. I think it's finally ready to go to market and [is] something that will be more widespread in the future, though I don't expect it to happen overnight," he said.

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