AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin leaders provided an update Tuesday on the city’s growing number of autonomous vehicles.

Currently, three AV companies have established services in Austin, with Cruise operating commercially and both Volkswagen ADMT and Waymo testing their vehicles in the Texas capital. Approximately 125 fully electric AVs are currently in commercial and/or testing use in Austin, per the city memo.

While City of Austin transportation officials noted the ability of these AVs “bringing increased accessibility and playing a role in supporting sustainability” initiatives, the memo did note city leaders have received increasing numbers of comments reflecting public safety concerns with the vehicles.

Under the Texas Transportation Code, state leadership ultimately oversees the operations and implementation of AVs in Texas. Per the Texas Transportation Code, “a political subdivision of this state or a state agency may not impose a franchise or other regulation related to the operation of an automated motor vehicle or automated driving system.”

However, city officials did flag that any crash involving an “automated vehicle, the automated vehicle or any human operator of the automated motor vehicle” is required to apply with the state’s transportation code. As a result, AV-involved crashes must be reported immediately to the local police or the sheriff’s office, as well as documented on a Texas Department of Public Safety accident report form.

The City of Austin’s Transportation and Public Works Department, the Austin Police Department, the Austin Fire Department and the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services launched a joint AV safety task force to help identify safety concerns and improvement opportunities.

Per the memo, the task force’s operations include:

  • Collecting feedback from residents via 3-1-1, council offices, direct comments sent to TPWD and other methods
  • Collecting feedback from public safety resources, such as via email or incident reports
  • Gathering data from all incidents and utilizing communications related to those incidents to create maps, analyze trends and communicate issues with AV companies
  • Facilitating trainings between public safety officials and AV companies
  • Working with AV companies to improve data, identify safety concerns, communicate regarding special events and ensure the companies have proper charging facilities for their fleets
  • Meeting with peer city entities to discuss and compare their policies and procedures

Officials noted in the memo they aren’t aware of any pedestrian, cyclist or scooter injuries caused by AVs thus far. AV companies have also received data on area public safety properties and stations, so they have those emergency facilities flagged as they operate.

“Some of the challenges facing the City with AVs is that they have difficulty following traffic direction from people, whether they be police officers or safety personnel at construction sites,” the memo read in part. “We have spoken with the AV companies about this issue, and they are working on a resolution. We have communicated with AV companies about specific incidents where AVs have blocked first responders.”

TPWD is working with cities like San Francisco, Phoenix, Washington, D.C. and Seattle to understand best practices and learn from their policies and procedures to help ensure maximum safety with AVs, the memo said.

“AV technology is new, and, while very exciting, poses significant challenges to communities chosen as testbeds for this innovative technology,” the memo concluded.


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