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The Legal Status of Autonomous Vehicles in Texas

September 5, 2023Car Accidents

Autonomous vehicles (AVs), once a vision of the future, are a reality on Texas roads. Since 2017, self-driving cars have been legal to operate in Texas. However, fully autonomous vehicles are not yet available to consumers and are still an ongoing and likely slow process. 

Texas Law on Autonomous Vehicles

Texas Law on Autonomous Vehicles

In 2017, Senate Bill (SB) 2205  passed, implementing uniform rules for AVs across the state rather than allowing local municipalities to create their own regulations. The major elements of SB 2205 include the following: 

  • AVs can be operated regardless of whether a licensed human operator is physically in the vehicle as long as the AV complies with applicable federal rules, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) requirements
  • AVs must be capable of operating in compliance with state traffic and motor vehicle laws.
  • AVs must be equipped with a data-recording system. 
  • The automated driving system must comply with applicable federal law and federal motor vehicle safety standards.
  • Owners of AVs are required to adhere to state registration, title, and insurance laws. 
  • An AV must immediately stop after a crash and notify the proper authorities of the incident. 

Levels of Self-Driving Cars

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has defined levels of automation for self-driving cars, ranging from Level 0 (no automation) to Level 5 (full automation). Here’s a brief overview:

Level 0 – No Automation

The human driver is responsible for all aspects of driving, including control of the vehicle and monitoring the environment. There may be warnings or momentary interventions, but the car does not have sustained control.

Level 1 – Driver Assistance

This level involves some automation, but the human driver must remain engaged and monitor the environment. For example, a lane-keeping system that helps steer a vehicle to the center of a lane.

Level 2 – Partial Automation

At this level, the vehicle can control both steering and acceleration/deceleration simultaneously. However, a human driver must still monitor the environment and be prepared to take over at any moment. Systems such as Tesla’s Full Self-Driving and GM’s Super Cruise are considered Level 2.

Level 3 – Conditional Automation

The vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions and environments. The human driver is still required, but they do not need to monitor the environment constantly. However, they must be available to take over when the system requests. Honda reportedly has released the first Level 3 AV, but it is only available to be leased in Japan. 

Level 4 – High Automation

The vehicle can operate without human input or oversight in specific environments or conditions. However, it may not be capable of handling all possible situations. In Level 4, human intervention is not a requirement. Level 4 driverless rideshare vehicles are in limited testing but not approved for general use anywhere in the U.S. 

Level 5 – Full Automation

This level represents complete automation. The vehicle is capable of performing all driving tasks under all conditions that a human driver could navigate. Level 5 vehicles do not require a human driver at all. Fully self-driving systems are still theoretical and are predicted to not be available until after 2035. 

Liability for Autonomous Vehicle Accidents

Determining liability in self-driving car accidents is an evolving legal challenge and can vary depending on the level of automation. In instances where the vehicle is in Level 0 or Level 1 automation, the human driver is typically primarily responsible. However, as automation levels increase, so does the potential shift in liability towards the manufacturers, software developers, or other entities responsible for the vehicle’s autonomous systems.