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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Drive.ai — a startup developing an on-demand autonomous shuttle service — is based in Silicon Valley, but it has deployed its first vans in Texas, drawn in by the state’s favorable regulations.

Why it matters: Without a national regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles, states have become laboratories not just for the technology itself, but also for the rules emerging to shape it.

The big picture: Federal legislation that would create national parameters for testing and deploying AVs passed the House but is stalled in the Senate, leaving states to create their own rules for now. Automakers worry that, without federal standards, they'll have to deal with a patchwork of state laws that would hamper a broader roll-out of the technology.

That leaves companies shopping for testbeds among the states. Their efforts will decide which Americans get to hitch a ride in an autonomous car first — and which cities will reap the potential economic benefits of self-driving vehicles, along with any problems.

For Drive.ai, Texas strikes a Goldilocks medium between highly regulated states like California and those with lax rules, like Arizona, said the company’s CEO, Sameep Tandon.

  • In Texas, a state Senate bill passed last year laid out clear rules and preempted local laws. That avoided "onerous requirements" on companies, said Christopher Poe, assistant director for automated vehicle strategy at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
  • To make it easier for cities to contract self-driving car companies, the state is lining up agreements with three of them — including Drive.ai — so that local governments can pick one without having to go through a cumbersome procurement process.

The statewide rules and processes mean companies that expand into Texas will have access to a bunch of sprawling, populous cities, many of which are actively pursuing driverless car testing or deployments.

  • Drive.ai's self-driving vans are already puttering around an office park in Frisco, a Dallas suburb, and the company will launch a second program in nearby Arlington to shuttle fans to Dallas Cowboys games.
  • Poe says there are plans to deploy similar services in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi.

The state of the states beyond Texas:

  • Currently, 29 states have passed some kind of regulation for self-driving cars, some more extensive than others.
  • In California, regulations include specific testing rules and requirements that companies submit reports of certain metrics.
  • In other states, like Arizona, Texas, and Florida, the regulations are much lighter and less explicit, enabling companies to more freely test and deploy ride services for passengers.

Where the companies are testing:

  • Waymo, Uber and GM Cruise are testing in states like California and Pennsylvania where they're located and can experience urban environments. Others are operating in Arizona and Florida, where lighter regulations make it easier to test and deploy ride services.
  • Testing is also determined by weather, not just regulations, the National Conference of State Legislature’s Douglas Shinkle points out. So far, much of it takes place in warmer, sunnier climates like California, Nevada, Texas and Florida where conditions are easier for today's AVs to navigate.

As companies get closer to deploying self-driving cars that are available to the public, state rules around consumer transportation will be even more important.

  • “Commercial deployment is the next big battleground in AV regulations,” says Greg Rogers, a director at Securing America’s Future Energy.

The other side: Some experts argue that self-driving safety regulation should really be done at the federal level.

  • “You should be able to buy a car in California and drive it to New York,” Rogers says, adding that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is best equipped to do this.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”