One of the bills passed last session, and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper, prepares North Carolina for the soon-coming reality of autonomous or driverless cars in the state. House Bill 469, “Regulation of Fully Autonomous Vehicles,” was sponsored by Rep. Phil Shepard (R-Onslow), and puts in place the framework for regulating autonomous cars.
The idea of cars on the highway being operated without a driver is one that has only recently begun to be technologically feasible. Acceptance of the notion has been gradual, but as with many technological advances, may become a reality regardless. Until Shepard’s bill, the state did not have any regulations regarding autonomous vehicles.
Shepard said when explaining the bill to the House in April, “We don’t have any regulations on the books, and we want to get started in advance. They’re going to be here before we know it.” He also said that the bill is a starting point, and recognizes that changes will most likely be made as changes are made along the way.
Early this year, the US Department of Transportation announced that North Carolina was one of 10 sites that will be used to test autonomous vehicles. The News & Observer reported on January 20, “Federal transportation officials picked North Carolina’s Interstate 540 Triangle Expressway toll road as one of 10 testing sites around the country for driverless car technology.”
January 1, 2018 is the target date for testing to begin.
In February, the UNC School of Government’s North Carolina Criminal Law blog featured an article entitled, “The Future of NC Transportation is Here – Now.” The article describes the idea of maintaining the current structure applied to automobile transportation between the federal government and the states, to the regulating of autonomous vehicles: “The recommended approach would maintain the existing division of responsibility between the federal and state governments: The federal government would regulate the manufacture of motor vehicles and their equipment. States would continue to regulate human drivers, vehicle registration, traffic laws, insurance and liability.”
Some states already have either legislation or executive orders related to autonomous vehicles. Shepard’s bill, signed by Cooper on July 21, provides regulations for autonomous vehicles thereby moving the state closer to seeing the technology become a reality on North Carolina’s roads.
For example, the bill states that the operator of a fully autonomous vehicle with the automated driving system engaged does not have to be licensed to operate a motor vehicle. Also, a parent or legal guardian is responsible for complying with the child restraint law and the law against children riding in the open bed of a pickup truck.
The bill also states that a child under 12 shall not operate a fully autonomous vehicle unless they are under the supervision of a person 18 years of age or older. In the case of a moving violation, the registered owner of the vehicle is held responsible.
The bill also creates the Fully Autonomous Vehicle Committee within the Department of Transportation. The committee is to meet at least four times a year to review technology related to fully autonomous vehicles, review state motor vehicle laws as they relate to the deployment of the vehicles, make recommendations for the testing of fully autonomous vehicles and make recommendations regarding changes in local ordinances or state law.
The bill passed the House in a 119-1 vote, and the Senate 47-2 in June. The law becomes effective on December 1, 2017.