King of the (autonomous) Hill
A newly enacted law, SB 2205, was signed off on Thursday by Governor Greg Abbott, and will go into effect on September 1.
Under the new rules, researchers can try out self-driving cars on public highways and roads throughout the state “without any intervention or supervision by a human operator.”
Robo-ride developers will still have to show the autonomous vehicle is capable of complying with all state traffic laws and federal highway safety rules, and has a recording device present. Researchers will also need to show proof of insurance or liability coverage for the car.
In short, Texas is allowing autonomous cars to pass the same tests and requirements as human drivers, with the addition of a recording requirement. The law will supersede any city or county laws that would seek to place tighter restrictions.
The law gives Texas a leg up over rival states that are jockeying for the investments and jobs offered by the automotive and tech companies currently developing driverless car systems. With looser restrictions on where and when autonomous cars can operate without the hindrance of a human behind the wheel, researchers may be more apt to set up shop in Texas.
The Governor of Washington has begun the push for similar rules in his state, signing an executive order to open up the roads to human-free car testing. In issuing his executive order, Gov Jay Inslee displayed an extraordinary amount of confidence in the technology, calling it “foolproof.”
Texas, along with its newly implemented lax rules, has geography on its side as well. The state’s relatively flat landscape and massive tracts of unoccupied land give researchers huge stretches of sparsely occupied roads on which to run their cars. ®