Autonomous delivery vehicles now legal in North Carolina

Residents of North Carolina could one day have pizza or groceries delivered to their homes or businesses by driverless vehicles, under a bill signed by Governor Roy Cooper this week .

The bill allows fully autonomous vehicles designed to deliver goods to travel on state roads and highways. The new law qualifies them as “vehicles without neighborhood occupants” and allows their use on roads with a speed limit of 45 mph or less.

It is not known where and when these vehicles will appear in North Carolina. But Representative Jason Saine, one of the bill’s main sponsors, has said he wants to make sure driverless vehicles are legal when companies want to start presenting them to the state.

“I didn’t want our state to be left behind,” Saine, a Lincoln County Republican, said in an interview. “It’s just kind of an evolution in the way goods and services are delivered to us in our homes and in our businesses.”

Saine said he introduced the bill at the request of Nuro lobbyists, a Californian company that manufactures driverless delivery vehicles. Nuro’s R2 robot on wheels can transport over 400 pounds of cargo (but no people) along pre-programmed routes, and uses cameras and sensors to avoid pedestrians, pets, cars and other objects that could get in its way.

Domino’s Pizza started using the R2 to deliver pies to some areas of Houston earlier this year. Nuro also has vehicles on the road in Arizona and California, but won’t say when they might arrive in North Carolina.

“While we have no specifics to share at this time on when Nuro vehicles will be on North Carolina roads, we are excited about the positive momentum the state is seeing to bring the benefits of delivery. autonomous without occupant to the North Carolinians. Mike Blank, the company’s regional policy manager, wrote in an email.

Other states pass similar bills

Blank said several states, including Florida and Nevada, passed bills similar to North Carolina’s this year. Allowing vehicles on the road is a necessary first step to introduce the technology, he said.

“We believe that autonomous vehicles can help dramatically improve safety, create new jobs and bring goods to people’s homes in an affordable and convenient way,” he wrote. “Our long-term goal is to provide autonomous delivery services to as many people as possible and to help them realize the benefits of robotics in their daily lives. “

North Carolina lawmakers passed the first autonomous vehicle bill in 2017 that establish some ground rules for licensing and operating autonomous vehicles that transport people.

The new law only applies to vehicles designed to transport goods and places few restrictions on their use. In addition to the speed limit, it forces vehicles to move as close as possible to the right edge of the road, except when making left turns, and to exit two-lane highways when five or more cars or trucks are grouped behind. them while waiting to pass.

The bill met little opposition – none in the Senate and only three lawmakers voting against in the House. Another sponsor, Representative Robert Reives, a Democrat from Chatham County, said he believes vehicles can operate safely, and apparently other lawmakers are as well.

“I’d rather have safety than efficiency,” Reives said.

Reives said that with a handful of startups in the autonomous vehicle industry, he didn’t expect them to be mainstream anytime soon.

“I’d be surprised to see one before a year,” he said.

Preparing for the future of transport

North Carolina has taken other steps to prepare for new transportation technologies. The North Carolina Department of Transportation was chosen for a federal program to demonstrate the practical uses of drones, which resulted in the delivery of laboratory samples by UPS to the main WakeMed campus in Raleigh and deliveries of food from drone maker Flytrex in Fayetteville, Raeford and more recently Holly Springs.

The federal government has also named the Triangle Highway in western Wake County as one of the country’s 10 “proving grounds” for autonomous vehicle technology. Volvo and FedEx used the highway, also known as the NC 540, to test an advanced form of cruise control that allows two or more trucks to communicate with each other and come closer together in small convoys or “platoons.”

NCDOT officials and lawmakers have said they want to be prepared to safely welcome new technologies and attract the companies that develop them.

House Bill 814, the Neighborhood Occupant Vehicle Law, is another step in that direction, Saine said.

“These types of technologies are going to go where they are best dealt with,” he said. “And so I want to make sure that we at least have the opportunity to compete and that our state is considered for this sort of thing.”

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Richard Stradling covers transport for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, as well as ferries, bicycles, scooters and quite simply on foot. Also, hospitals during the coronavirus epidemic. He has been a journalist or editor for 34 years, the last 22 of which at The N&O. 919-829-4739, [email protected]

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