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Texas House Tentatively Approves Testing of Driverless Cars in the State

The bill would require the vehicles to meet all federal and state safety standards and carry the usual motorist liability insurance.

(TNS) — Texas House lawmakers on Saturday embraced one transportation future, driverless cars, while displaying wariness if not outright hostility toward another, bullet trains.

With little discussion as they buzzed through a pile of Senate-passed bills, members tentatively approved a measure that would let manufacturers test self-driving or "autonomous" cars on Texas roads.

The bill by North Richland Hills GOP Sen. Kelly Hancock would require the vehicles to meet all federal and state safety standards and carry the usual motorist liability insurance.

When the cars are in use, systems operating them would be on the hook for damages from any mishaps — or would be considered the driver if any moving violations are ticketed. Local governments couldn't regulate the cars or charge the operators a franchise fee.

Limited tests have been underway in the Dallas and Austin areas. Bill supporters, which include corporate giants such as Toyota, General Motors, Lockheed Martin and AT&T, have said Texas needs to offer "regulatory certainty" to reap a potential financial windfall from the emerging technology.

The bill, which the Senate passed unanimously last month, advanced on a voice vote after House sponsor Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican, spoke for fewer than 30 seconds.

Final House passage of it and two anti-bullet train measures is likely — and could come as early as Sunday.

Two bullet train measures

A bill by Georgetown GOP Sen. Charles Schwertner, echoing provisions he inserted in the state budget, would prohibit use of state money on privately operated high-speed rail.

High-speed rail would be defined as intercity passenger rail service that's expected to reach speeds of at least 110 mph.

Texas Central Railway, a private entity, has said it can build a bullet train from Dallas to Houston using only federal funds and private investors' money.

With only a smattering of Democratic opposition, the bill won tentative approval, 121-9.

A separate bill by Granbury GOP Sen. Brian Birdwell, which also advanced, would require a bullet-train operator to conduct periodic risk-based threat and vulnerability assessments.

In consultation with the federal Transportation Security Administration, the operator would have to implement appropriate security measures based on results of the assessments. The operator's managers and supervisors would have to have disaster training.

Proponents said the measure promotes public safety and isn't intended to burden private companies; opponents said private industry doesn't need government mandates to protect passengers.

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