After the testing of self-driving cars on Texas roads over the past few years, a legal framework for autonomous driving technology officially took effect in September. Governor Greg Abbott signed S.B. 2205 shortly after the U.S. Department of Transportation selected Texas as one of ten locations to test automated vehicle technology.
Provisions of New Texas Law
The new law preempts ordinances and regulations that would require a human driver. In order to operate on public roads, however, an “automated motor vehicle” must be capable of complying with traffic laws, equipped with a recording device, insured, registered and titled in the state, and in compliance with state and federal requirements.
Citing a need to clarify the legal treatment of self-driving cars, Senator Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) sponsored the bill. Senator Kelly opposed an unsuccessful bill on self-driving cars in 2015 because it did not clarify what would happen after an accident involving a self-driving vehicle. The new law addresses those concerns by deeming the manufacturer of an automated motor vehicle or automated driving system to be the “owner” for purposes of liability and requiring automated vehicles to stop and notify authorities after any accident.
Proposed Federal Bills
Over 20 states have passed laws on autonomous vehicles. On the federal level, the U.S. Department of Transportation has released guidance on self-driving technology, and legislators are considering two major bills that would promote the development of this technology.
Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution, better known as the SELF-DRIVE Act or H.R. 3388, recently passed in the House of Representatives. Among other things, the SELF-DRIVE Act directs manufacturers of automated driving technology to develop plans to address cybersecurity and privacy concerns.
The SELF-DRIVE Act is currently pending in the Senate, where it is anticipated to merge with a newly introduced bill called the American Vision for Safe Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies, better known as the AV START Act. Like the SELF-DRIVE Act, the AV START Act grants developer exemptions to vehicles that do not currently meet federal motor vehicle standards. Despite the well-recognized need to establish a legal framework to regulate self-driving cars, critics argue that the generous exemptions are insufficient to protect consumers. Both bills have been approved by Senate committees.
While federal legislation is under consideration, Texas is embracing self-driving technology. Testing is already in progress in Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
 Brandon Formby, New Law Clears the Way for Driverless Cars on Texas Roads, Texas Tribune, June 15, 2017.
 See Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Chosen as Testing Grounds for Automated Vehicles, Jan. 24, 2017.
 Aman Batheja, Self-Driving Car Bill Stalled by Google, Carmakers, Texas Tribune, Apr. 22, 2015; O’Connor’s Annotations, Driverless Cars: Who’s Liable?, Nov. 6, 2015.
 See Gabriel Weiner & Bryan Walker Smith, Automated Driving: Legislative and Regulatory Action, Center for Internet & Society.
 NHTSA, Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety 2.0; NHTSA, U.S. DOT Releases New Automated Driving Systems Guidance, Sept. 12, 2017.
 Andrew Krok, US House Votes Overwhelmingly in Favor Self-Driving-Car of Bill, CNET, Sept. 6, 2017.
 H.R.3388 – SELF DRIVE Act, Congress.gov.
 Eric Kulisch, Safety Groups Slam Senate Bill for Lax Oversight of Self-Driving Cars, Automotive News, Oct. 3, 2017; Lucian Armasu, Consumer Groups: ‘AV START’ Act Exempts Autonomous Vehicles from Too Many Safety Regulations, Tom’s Hardware, Oct. 2, 2017.