It was announced today that Tesla bought five million dollars worth of land outside Austin to build their next factory. looking at the history of autonomous vehicle laws, this should come as no surprise.
In 2011, The Nevada legislature passed laws that made Nevada the first state to allow the testing of autonomous vehicles on their roads. After that, other states began following suit. There are now 30 states plus the District of Columbia with some sort of legislation that allows for the testing and/or operation of autonomous vehicles on public roadways. However, not all state laws are created equal. Some states restrict autonomous vehicle operation to testing while others allow full deployment to the public. Other states still require a licensed driver to be present in the vehicle. Others still, place high insurance hurdles to operation. But one state—Texas—is better poised to make it easier than the rest for autonomous vehicle makers to move in and move forward.
The Laws Restricting Autonomous Vehicles
Of the 30 States that have laws pertaining to autonomous vehicles, 12 of those states only allow testing. Those states include Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Additionally, Alabama and Louisiana only allow the deployment of commercial motor vehicles onto public roads, not passenger cars. Obviously, these 14 stats’ impediments to the immediate use and testing of the vehicles on real streets is a drawback for prospective autonomous vehicle manufacturers.
In addition to the above, 10 states further discourage companies from developing autonomous vehicles there due to higher insurance requirements on these vehicles. The following 8 states require a five-million-dollar insurance policy to test vehicles: California, Connecticut, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New York, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. Furthermore, Alabama and Louisiana require two million in insurance coverage.
Lastly, many of the states enacting autonomous vehicle legislation require that a licensed operator and/or at least a person be inside the vehicle at all times—which restricts the potential business use of these vehicles by transportation companies who want to avoid paying a driver. These states include Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Utah, and Vermont. Additionally, the District of Columbia requires a licensed operator present.
Only Two Friendly States Left
Texas and Colorado are the only two truly autonomous-vehicle-friendly states that do not have any of the above restrictions on fully autonomous vehicles. While some of the above restrictions alone may not be an impediment such as the $5,000,000 insurance requirement to test the vehicles, states without such restrictions certainly send a warmer welcoming message to companies like Tesla. Based upon their recent announcement, Tesla agrees.
Texas is a Clear Choice for Autonomous Vehicle Manufacturers
Texas is a clear choice over Colorado and most other states to the North. Texas liability laws pertaining to autonomous vehicles have zero insurance requirements, no restrictions on deployment, and no limitations on who, if anyone, must be in the vehicle. Texas is wide open and flat. It is a much safer testing ground than a state prone to snow, sleet, and black ice. While the mountain terrain is beautiful in Colorado, roads with avalanches and sharp curves are not ideal testing grounds for vehicles driven by computer software and sensors—at least not until the technology advances.
Nevada has one advantage over Texas—a history of supporting autonomous vehicles. Nevada was the first to pass laws supporting them in 2011. However, the insurance impediment is still a factor that companies must weight. While large corporations may have that kind of insurance anyway, smaller start-ups may be deterred by the cost. As a result, Texas is the clear choice for those companies and at least, on equal footing with the larger corporations.
When you take into consideration all of the above factors, it becomes clear that Texas has positioned itself as a front runner to draw autonomous vehicle manufacturers to open up shop in the Lone Star State. Tesla may be just the first.