(TNS) — AUSTIN - Texas took a step toward having self-driving vehicles zipping up and down its highways and streets under a first-of-its-kind measure approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.
Approved by a 31-0 vote, Senate Bill 2205 would implement minimum safety standards for "autonomous vehicles" and "automated driving systems" - the first time the new technology will be regulated in the Lone Star state.
State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, said oversight is needed to ensure the rapidly evolving technology - some of which involve human navigators and others that are fully automated - remains safe on Texas roadways.
He said the legislation defines "automated driving system" to mirror current requirements of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has set nationwide safety standards.
The bill also preempts local officials in Texas from imposing their own rules or requiring a franchise for companies to operate autonomous vehicles - the latest such measure approved in this legislative session to curb local regulations on a variety of issues.
Owners of autonomous vehicles would have to comply with state registration and title laws and follow traffic and motor vehicle laws; the vehicles must be equipped with a data-recording system, meet federal safety standards and have insurance.
In the event of an accident, the autonomous vehicle immediately would have to stop and notify the proper authorities.
Senate supporters of the bill said they were unsure how quickly self-driving vehicles may show up on Texas thoroughfares in greater numbers than just the few test vehicles that have been seen so far with human backup drivers or monitors.
Hancock said the Port of Houston has a study underway about using autonomous vehicles to move arriving and departing freight containers, and companies are exploring the use of the technology to move visitors between major venues and hotels.
The approved bill, which now goes to the House for consideration, was the result of negotiations between Senate and House leaders in a work group on the issue.
"You could almost say that this work group drove itself," Hancock said to laughter by colleagues.
General Motors applauded Thursday's action.
"With today's vote, the Senate is taking an important step toward ensuring that Texas leads the way in self-driving vehicles," Paul Hemmersbaugh, GM's chief counsel and public policy director for transportation as a service, said in a statement.
"From reducing traffic congestion, crashes, and fatalities to bringing life-changing mobility opportunities to elderly and disabled Texans, self-driving vehicles have great potential to create a better, safer future for all."
©2017 the Houston Chronicle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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