Texas sets framework for autonomous vehicle operation in the state

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Updated Jun 2, 2017
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A demonstration of ZF’s Highway Driver Assist — an autonomous system that enables the truck to pilot itself in on-highway driving.

The Texas legislature last week passed a bill to establish a basic regulatory framework for autonomous vehicle operation in the state, including allowing vehicles without humans present in the vehicle to operate on the state’s roadways.

The Texas House passed the bill, SB 2205, May 21, a few weeks after the state’s Senate approved the legislation. The bill now heads to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to sign into law, which he’s expected to do this week, but hadn’t as of mid-day June 1. Should the bill be made law, it will become effective Sept. 1.

The five-page bill sets fairly liberal rules regarding vehicle automation. For instance, the bill prohibits the state’s DOT or any localities from requiring “a franchise” — such as a special license or permit — to operate an autonomous vehicle in the state. The legislation also explicitly states vehicles capable of operating without driver input, including the ability to follow traffic laws, may do so “regardless of whether the person is physically present,” the bill reads. “The automated driving system is considered to be licensed to operate the vehicle.”

The bill also establishes protocol for crashes involving automated vehicles, simply stating they’re responsible with complying with laws already on the books regarding crash protocol.

The autonomous vehicle actions drew broad support from Texas lawmakers, with the bill passing the Senate unanimously (31-0) and clearing the House with just one no vote, 137-1.