NC lawmakers get firsthand look at driverless vehicles

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina lawmakers spent Monday getting behind the wheel to experience driverless vehicles firsthand.

CBS North Carolina’s Beairshelle Edmé went on the road and asked questions about how state officials plan to keep you safe as technology advances.

“If you had asked me a year ago, ‘Would this technology- when would it happen?’ I’d say 10 years,” Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston County) detailed. “Today, I’ll tell you within 2 (years).”

The chair for the Strategic Transportation Planning and Long Term Funding Solutions House Committee tells Edmé there’s a bi-partisan effort to tackle these looming changes.

Asked if he thought the autonomous vehicles were ready to be on the road today, the Republican answered, “There are some that are on the road today, available today and yes different levels of autonomy.”

Most experts CBS North Carolina spoke with at the demonstrations, including those with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, are confident driverless vehicles will make us safer – even save lives and prevent fatal crashes.

“The concern, I would say, is they’re (driverless vehicles) not here yet. And the reason (for that concern) is that over 1,400 people died on our highways last year, and 1,400 are going to die on our highways this year. That’s too many,” said Kevin Lacy, a NC DOT traffic engineer. “The one thing that’s certain is that what we do in DOT will change. How and when is still up in the air.”

Questions also still exist about the infrastructure changes that will be necessary to keep up with this technology. That means questions about your tax dollars as well.

Lawmakers believe they must begin to answer these inquiries.

But one thing is already clear to Rep. Torbett.

“This is the largest transformational shift in transportation since the horse’s carriage, and that is to be able to get into a vehicle, sit back, have nothing to do with that vehicle and go from point A to point B. That’s coming and that’s coming today.”

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