New Bill Brings Driverless Car Testing to Texas' Roads
Talk of driverless cars and of pods that can take passengers from one major city to another in less than 30 minutes may seem futuristic. But such advancements may not be that far off.
Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that lays the groundwork for how autonomous vehicles will be able to operate on Texas roads. The new law allows testing and operation of “high and full automation AVs on public roadways” but it also requires that those driverless vehicles comply with all traffic laws and be insured.
Long before the bill was signed, Texas had been working to be a leader when it comes to the future of self-driving cars.
Darren Anderson, TxDOT’s director of strategy and innovation, said the agency is just one of many preparing for the future of autonomous vehicles.
“We are a player, but there are many involved in the who and what of what we need to do,” he said. “It goes to education, and how is it going to change the workforce? What skills will be needed, and how will skills change as they become more and more prevalent.”
Automated vehicles also could decrease the number of crashes, many of which are caused by human error.
“No engineering solution is going to eliminate every one of those potential crashes. But if you could have even that number of lives saved, number of injuries prevented, the amount of money saved, the impacts are huge for society,” he said. “I think a lot of people see that and they see the potential, and that is one of the driving factors.”
Anderson said that TxDOT is working with an alliance of nine cities and universities to focus on how cities will work together and share best practices and lessons learned. One of the most important things these cars will do is share data, he said.
For example, TxDOT collects data on roads and road damage. In the future, the cars could transmit data about the roads and infrastructure and back to the agency.
Tom Bamonte, program manager for automated vehicles at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said the Regional Transportation Council is also working toward data sharing.
“You think about how you drive these days using Waze, Google Maps or whatnot, what we see is a future where everyone involved in transportation — from you and I in the vehicle to emergency responders to the folks who are actually developing the automated vehicles — is using and sharing data,” Bamonte said.
“In order to safely have an AV operate on a highway they have to know where the lanes are, where the exits are and when there are things going on in the roadway.”
Bamonte said the agency is moving forward with two grants, one aimed at encouraging regional partners to share traffic data, the other related to sharing data with travel navigation services like Waze and Google Maps.
Bamonte said the RTC previously approved several programs to further automated vehicle development in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
There’s no timetable for when you’ll see it yet, but automated cars could make their presence known soon on Interstate 30. Under one pilot project in the region, a manged lane of the I-30 corridor between Dallas and Fort Worth could be closed to allow researchers to test transportation technology, particularly that of a high-speed nature.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated Texas a proving ground where companies and public agencies can test automated vehicle technologies. And the city of Arlington has been a leader in testing some of that technology.
The Arlington City Council recently approved a one-year pilot program to test two driverless shuttles in the city’s entertainment district during special events. The shuttles will hold about 12 passengers each and travel no faster than about 20 mph.
“This is directly in line with council priority to put technology to work and make sure we are taking advantage of all advances in transportation technology,” Alicia Winkelblech, the city’s assistant director of strategic planning said in a recent interview. “It’s happening at a fast pace.”
The goal is to run the pilot project for a year to test the technology and let the public become familiar and comfortable with the automated shuttles.
Even with so much research in the works, don't expect to see driverless cars in your neighborhood anytime soon. For now, just prepare for a lot of testing.