TEXAS VIEW: Texas is perfect for testing driverless cars, but technology will outpace regulation

THE POINT: As autonomous cars become more common, state leaders must look far down the road.

You may not have seen one yet, but autonomous cars have already arrived on Dallas streets. As they grow in number, state leaders must keep both eyes on the road.

News about self-driving cars has been the talk of cities like Austin and San Francisco, but driverless rideshare vehicles, or “robotaxis,” are also being tested in Dallas, as our colleagues have reported. Autonomous car company Cruise is testing their Chevy Bolts, albeit with a human in the driver’s seat. By the end of the year, Cruise hopes to release cars into Dallas without human backup following a multistep testing period.

Cruise has already rolled out its driverless cars for public use in Austin. The cars drive through parts of downtown but only during the night.

Cities may have concerns, but the future is in the state’s hands. And legislators have intentionally, and wisely in our view, taken a light touch thus far with regulation. A December study commissioned by the Legislature says that “companies are investing in Texas because of its supportive regulatory environment, more so than any other state.”

This environment is working well for now. The study says that driverless cars can reduce driver error and risky driving habits, enhancing road safety. It’s a good thing that Texas wants to be at the forefront of this technology, and making room for innovation has been a great boost to our economy. But as the cars become more common, frequent regulatory review will be necessary.

Automated driving technologies are far from perfect. They need testing to improve. That testing has to be done on public roads for it to yield useful, real-world data. As more driverless cars are tested in Texas communities, the technology is refined and residents have a chance to interact with and learn about how these cars are going to shape the transportation future.

But as long as driverless cars share public roads with human-filled cars, the companies that produce them and the state are responsible for ensuring they are properly regulated.

Driverless cars may eventually become standard. That still looks to be a long way off. In the meantime, some residents will likely find they are a nuisance. It’s also possible they could be involved in serious accidents. People probably will raise complaints with local officials.

Senate Bill 2205, passed in 2017, allows automated vehicles to operate in the state, but it also stipulates that “a political subdivision” of the state can’t regulate them. Texas has special safety and technical specifications for driverless cars, and they have to be registered, titled and insured just like any other car.

The Legislature has smartly ensured that autonomous car companies can develop their technology in the state. But it may need to move faster than its biannual meeting to regulate them given how quickly they are deploying.

Without serious foresight, the state will leave cities fending for themselves.

The Dallas Morning News