60 Seconds with Kevin Lacy, North Carolina Department of Transportation

Modern Materials Handling sat down with Kevin Lacy who is responsible for the safe and efficient movement of all modes of transportation through research and development of effective policies to improve traffic flow and safety for all.

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Title: Director of transportation, mobility and safety at the North Carolina Department of Transportation
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Duties: The division is responsible for the safe and efficient movement of all modes of transportation through research and development of effective policies to improve traffic flow and safety for all.

Modern: Last January, the North Carolina Department of Transportation announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation had designated your state as a proving ground pilot site for the testing of automated vehicle technologies. Autonomous vehicles are certainly on the minds of supply chain professionals. So, why is North Carolina’s Department of Transportation so involved with the move to autonomous vehicles?

Lacy: Short term, we want to be sure that this state is an engaged and active participant in helping to move the technology forward. Long term, autonomous vehicles are all about saving lives, and our goal is to get to zero highway deaths. That requires an end to car crashes, and autonomous vehicles are our best shot at getting there. We’ve always been known as a good roads state with more than 80,000 miles of roads. We have existing rural and urban roads across many geographies and weather conditions that autonomous vehicles need to prove themselves on. It’s also important to keep in mind here that autonomous vehicles are a competition, a race. The quickest and best companies at it will make billions if not trillions from the technology. Everybody wins when North Carolina and others facilitate autonomous vehicle development.

Modern: I’ve heard that state route N.C. 540 fits into the picture here. How so?

Lacy: Also known as Triangle Expressway, N.C. 540 is an 18.8-mile stretch of road built five or six years ago. When it’s completely built out, it will be a loop around Raleigh. But for now, the autonomous vehicle pioneers are using it, with our help, as a proving ground for the technology. By state law, there are no restrictions on a vehicle as long as it has a driver. But there are times when developers want to go driverless. To that end, the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this year named North Carolina one of 10 proving ground pilot sites for testing autonomous vehicles. N.C. 540 will be used for self-driving vehicle testing as a result.

Modern: Is there any legislation in process or on the horizon to advance autonomous vehicle technology?

Lacy: On December 1, House Bill 469 went into effect. It regulates the operation of fully autonomous vehicles on the public highways of North Carolina. The bill establishes the conditions that an autonomous vehicle must meet before it can be driven without a driver in the state. It covers everything from vehicle registration to minimum age of unsupervised minors in the car to responsibility for moving violations. Needless to say, they also have to follow the established rules of the road, too. This is an important step in the development of autonomous vehicles. While many have talked about building separate roadways for them, that will not happen in North Carolina.

Modern: It sure sounds like you and the state see autonomous vehicles on the roads as inevitable at this point.

Lacy: We do. But it will happen over time. I expect that before I hit 30 years with the department, 2023 to be precise, we will have autonomous vehicles on the roads. But I also expect a mixed fleet of autonomous and human driven vehicles for the next 25 to 30 years. I hired a new engineer earlier this year. His entire career will be this transition from nothing to completely autonomous vehicles. That said, public acceptance will be the ultimate determiner of how quickly and completely autonomous vehicles take over. Always keep that in mind.

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