Lawmakers on Monday got a crash course in autonomous vehicle technology. They were briefed on what is already commercially available on the road to information on truly autonomous vehicles (AV).
Members of the House Select Committee on Strategic Transportation Planning and Long-Range Funding Solutions met at the North Carolina State Highway Patrol’s (SHP) test track off of Tryon Road to demo certain features such as automatic braking to parking assist features vehicles are currently using.
The demonstration included vehicles from Tesla, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, BMW, Jeep, Dodge, Land Rover, Jaguar, Cadillac and Chrysler, as well as a test ride in a SHP Dodge Charger.
The point of the demonstration, and ensuing informational meeting and panel discussion Monday afternoon was to introduce legislators to what technology is available and where the technology may be going so that they will be able to more effectively govern when it comes to regulating autonomous vehicles.
The hope for those in the industry is that lawmakers will have more information when it comes time to consider new transportation laws.
In addition to the presentation from auto-manufacturers, legislators heard from representatives of the North Carolina State University engineering department, state transportation officials and a representative from Uber, the popular ridesharing company.
The state already has provisions on the books for autonomous vehicles, being one of 21 states to have already passed legislation regarding AV technology.
House Bill 469, passed in 2017 and now law, allows for unlicensed operators to travel in fully autonomous vehicles without a licensed operator present, but would not allow anyone under 12 to ride in the vehicles unattended by an adult.
Under North Carolina law, the owner of the vehicle would be responsible for moving violations and vehicular accidents instead of the operator.
Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) said that the current legislation is still sufficient for the current advancement of AV and no specific regulations are being discussed.
But while this technology may still seem like science fiction to many, experts believe it may be as little as five or ten years away from widespread use.
The main concern when it comes to autonomous vehicle technology is the question of safety, but Kevin Lacy, state traffic engineer with the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT), says that the hurdle is not to create AV technology as safe as human drivers, but moving beyond that level.
Lacy said that AV technology would save lives, and be more efficient.
Lacy said that machine drivers have a much faster reaction time than human drivers and are not as easily distracted from tasks.
“If the goal was for the autonomous vehicle people to develop a car that drives as good as the human does today, they probably have already done that,” Lacy said. “But that goal is way too low.”
NCDOT officials are currently upgrading road markings in the state, which aid current autonomous driving features such as lane control in vehicles that are already on the road, as well as aiding human drivers.