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Lawmakers opt for study, not regulation of unmanned vehicles

Lawmakers opt for study, not regulation of unmanned vehicles

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State representatives decided, to encourage the testing of driverless vehicles in North Dakota, they should not be regulated under state law.

The House Transportation Committee, voted Friday to amend HB1065 to recommend the study of autonomous vehicles and autonomous corridors in the state. The original bill was written to set regulations for the vehicles.

The bill's author, Rep. Ben Hanson, D-West Fargo, said the original purpose of the bill was to encourage autonomous vehicle testing in the state by offering regulatory certainty, knowing they "won't have the rug pulled out from under them," if they choose to invest in a training facility.

Regulations would have included proof of insurance, bonding of a testing facility, a driver to take over manning the vehicle in case of emergency and others set by the North Dakota Department of Transportation. The regulations would have been modeled after laws in Nevada, California, Florida and Michigan.

Industry representatives testified against the suggested regulations during the committee hearing, warning they could stifle testing even though testing continues in the four other states where regulations exist.

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said he thinks the state needs to find a way to let autonomous vehicle developers know they are welcome in North Dakota but did not think regulation would be the way to do it. The study was offered as that alternative.

Marlo Anderson of the Central North American Trade Corridor Association testified in favor of the bill. The association's Autonomous Friendly Corridor will be among those things studied if the bill passes.

CNATCA wants to create a north-south corridor stretching from North Dakota to Texas for UAV to make commercial deliveries using Highway 83. The corridor would include ports to service the vehicles along the way and using autonomous vehicles on the route would help meet the demand for long-haul trucking.

The vehicles navigate using a series of radar-like sensors and GPS technology. Anderson testified about his experience riding in a UAV in Las Vegas. He said a vehicle stopped short in front of him. The UAV stopped, swerved and avoided a collision.

"If I had been driving myself I think I would have had an accident," he told the committee. 

In addition to the added safety, autonomous vehicles would also eliminate the need for hourly driving limits regulating manned commercial vehicles now.

Anderson said autonomous vehicles still need to be tested in winter conditions and said that opens an opportunity for North Dakota.

Legislators agreed autonomous vehicle testing is something the state should try to take advantage of but said there is nothing preventing testing in the state now, ultimately deciding to hold off on any kind of regulation.

The bill will now go to the House for a vote by the assembly.

(Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com)

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