PDDs: Coming Soon to a Street Near You

What’s three feet long, two feet wide, weighs a few hundred pounds and can drive itself down a street or sidewalk to deliver cargo?

Why a personal delivery device, of course.

Never heard of one? Me neither . . . until this legislative session when the General Assembly authorized their (future) use. S.L. 2020-73 (S 739).

What exactly is a personal delivery device? It is an electrically powered device made for transporting cargo. Personal delivery devices are equipped with automated driving technology that permits them to operate with or without the remote support and supervision of a human. They weigh 500 pounds or less (excluding their cargo), are 40 inches or less in length, and are 30 inches or less wide.

Where and how many they be used?  S.L. 2020-73 (S 739) permits a business, on or after December 1, 2020, to operate a personal delivery device (PDD) in a pedestrian area (a sidewalk, crosswalk, school crossing zone, or safety zone) or on a street or highway, subject to certain conditions.

  • The PDD must be monitored by an operator who is able to remotely control the device.
  • The PDD may not exceed 10 miles per hour in a pedestrian area.
  • The PDD may be operated on a street or highway only if necessary to cross the street or highway or if a sidewalk is not accessible. Even then, the PDD may not be operated on a street or highway with a speed limit greater than 35 miles per hour.  In those circumstances, the PDD must be operated on the shoulder or extreme right of the roadway in the direction of traffic and must yield the right-of-way to vehicles. The PDD may not be operated at a speed of more than 20 miles per hour on a street or highway.
  • The PDD must obey traffic and pedestrian control devices and signals, must yield the right of way to pedestrians, and may not “unreasonably interfere with any vehicle or pedestrian.”
  • A PDD may not transport hazardous materials that require placarding under federal regulations.

What equipment must a PDD have? A PDD must be marked with the name and contact information of the owner and a unique identification number.  It must have a braking system that enables the device to come to a controlled stop.  And, when operated at night, a PDD must have lights on the front and rear that are visible and recognizable under normal atmospheric conditions from at least 500 feet.

Penalty for noncompliance. Violation of the rules for operation and equipment requirements for PDDs, which are codified in new G.S. 20-175.8, is an infraction.

Insurance. A business that operates a PDD must maintain an insurance policy that includes general liability coverage of at least $100,000 per claim for damages arising from the operation of a PDD.

Local regulation. Beginning December 1, 2020, a local government with jurisdiction over public streets, sidewalks and other ways of public passage may, to assure the safety of people using such streets and sidewalks, regulate the time and place for operation of PDDs.  A local government may not, however, prohibit the operation of PDDs in its jurisdiction. See S.L. 2020-73 (enacting new G.S. 20-175.9, effective December 1, 2020).

Local government’s authority to regulate such devices expands on December 1, 2022.  On or after that date, a local government may ban operation of PDDS within its jurisdiction. See S.L. 2020-73 (enacting amended version of G.S. 20-175.9, effective December 1, 2022).

Joining the party. Several other jurisdictions, including Idaho, Florida, Virginia, Washington and Washington, D.C. already have adopted legislation authorizing PDDs.  Amazon tested its PDD, named Scout, in Seattle last year.  Vox reported in 2017 that the PDD laws in Virginia and Idaho were written with the help of Starship Technologies, a delivery-robot company based in Estonia that was founded two of the co-founders of Skype.

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