Texas gets closer to allowing self-driving vehicle testing on public roads

A new state might join the ranks of those that allow testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads: A bill just passed the Texas Senate Transportation Committee that spells out a path toward statutes allowing use of highly automated vehicles on public state roads. The legislation has already been composed and vetted by public safety interests, as well as private and public stakeholders, and this moves it one step closer to becoming law, pending Senate debate and referral to the House.

The bill, “SB 2205” to its friends, was introduced by Senator Kelly Hancock, who also is the chair of the Senate Business & Commerce committee, and it’s definitely intended to help make sure that Texas can attract investment and economic boosts from companies seeking to build autonomous vehicles and self-driving software. Texas is likely eyeing nearby Arizona covetously, as that state plays host to self-driving vehicle tests from GM’s Cruise, Alphabet’s Waymo and Uber.

Texas’ bill would allow tests of cars that comply with any and all applicable federal laws, provided they’re also registered by the Texas DMV and have an on-board recorder to track data in case of incidents. It also requires that testers inform relevant state agencies ahead of time regarding the time and place where testing will occur, and that it be insured and display signs indicating it’s an autonomous car.

Like other states, Texas requires regular summaries of data resulting from tests be submitted both to its own Department of Transportation and to NHTSA.

Other states are likewise looking to encourage self-driving testing and operation, and in December Michigan lawmakers passed some of the most permissive laws around operation of autonomous vehicles, setting up a framework for not just testing but eventual vehicle sales, too.

Driving behavior seldom restrains itself to strictly within state borders, so it’s a good thing for the industry at large that more states are warming up to allowing autonomous tech on their roads.