In a significant setback for the autonomous trucking industry, the California Senate has passed a bill that would require a trained human safety operator to be present whenever a self-driving heavy-duty vehicle operates on public roads in the state. This effectively amounts to a ban on driverless AV trucks. The bill, known as AB 316, recently passed the senate floor with an overwhelming majority of 36 votes in favor and only two against. However, before it can become law, it still needs to be signed by Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom, known for his favorable stance towards the tech industry, is expected to veto AB 316. In fact, one of the governor’s senior advisers already wrote a letter opposing the legislation, stating that such restrictions on autonomous trucking could undermine existing regulations, limit supply chain innovation, hamper California’s economic competitiveness, and impede the progress of AV technology.
The passing of California’s AB 316, which would ban driverless autonomous trucks and require a human safety operator, is a blow to the autonomous trucking industry. While the bill requires Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature to become law, his reputation as being tech-friendly suggests he may veto it. Advocates argue that the legislation protects road users and job security for truck drivers, while opponents claim it hampers lifesaving technology and inhibits progress. The bill is contingent upon the DMV providing evidence of safety and submitting a report on AV technology’s impact before permits can be issued, potentially delaying fully autonomous trucks until 2030.
Advocates and Opponents:
Supporters of AB 316 argue that maintaining control over the presence of safety drivers in autonomous trucks is crucial for protecting road users in California and ensuring job security for truck drivers. Jason Rabinowitz, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7, expressed concern about the safety consequences of letting AV companies prioritize their investors over the well-being of communities. On the other hand, opponents of the bill, including AV companies and industry representatives, argue that it would not only hinder the advancement of lifesaving technology but also defeat the purpose of driverless trucks. They point out that, with tens of millions of miles driven and no fatalities caused by AV trucks reported in over two years, autonomous technology has demonstrated its potential to significantly improve road safety.
Impact on Testing and Deployment:
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) currently has a ban on AVs weighing over 10,001 pounds in the state. AB 316 was drafted in anticipation of the potential lifting of this ban by the DMV. If signed into law, the bill would prevent the agency from approving the removal of human drivers for testing or deployment purposes, a power the agency has held since 2012. The authors of the bill have clarified that their intention is not to permanently stop driverless trucking in California but rather to wait until the legislature is convinced that it is safe enough to remove the driver. Consequently, the DMV will now be required to present evidence of safety to policymakers and submit a report evaluating the performance of AV technology and its impact on public safety and employment in the trucking sector by January 1, 2029, or five years after testing begins (whichever is later). Only after this report is approved will the DMV be able to issue permits, potentially delaying the operation of autonomous trucks without human drivers until 2030.