California Is Set To Ban Driverless Trucks With No Safety Driver

The California Senate recently passed Assembly Bill 316 (AB 316), a significant decision impacting the autonomous trucking industry. AB 316 requires a trained human safety operator to be present whenever a self-driving heavy-duty vehicle operates on public roads in California, effectively prohibiting fully driverless autonomous trucks in the state.

AB 316 garnered strong support in the Senate with 36 votes in favor and two against. However, its ultimate fate lies with Governor Gavin Newsom, who may choose to veto it due to his reputation for supporting the tech industry.

Proponents argue that AB 316 is essential for safety and job security. They believe that maintaining human oversight during autonomous trucking operations is crucial to protecting road users and trucking jobs. This cautious approach aims to ensure that autonomous technology is safe before human drivers are entirely removed from the equation.

“AV companies have lost billions of dollars in the self-driving vehicle space over the last few years and are now trying to appease their investors by imposing unsafe, inadequate products on the public,” said Jason Rabinowitz, president of Teamsters Joint Council 7, in a statement. “These corporate elites have no regard whatsoever for the safety or prosperity of the communities they will put in harm’s way. Gov. Newsom needs to do right by Californians — not these companies — immediately.”

In contrast, AV companies and industry representatives oppose AB 316. They argue that it hinders the progress of technology that can save lives. They point out that in 2021, there were 5,788 truck crash fatalities, a 47% increase over the past decade, whereas AV trucks with human safety operators have not caused any fatal accidents in over two years of operation.

AB 316 also intersects with regulations from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which currently bans AVs weighing over 10,001 pounds. While AB 316 anticipates the DMV lifting this ban, it restricts the agency from approving the removal of human drivers for testing or deployment purposes, a power it has held since 2012.

The bill’s authors emphasize that their goal is not to halt autonomous trucking in California permanently. Instead, they want to ensure that it’s safe enough to remove human drivers. According to AB 316, the DMV must provide evidence of safety to policymakers.

By January 1, 2029, or five years after testing begins (whichever is later), the DMV must submit a report evaluating AV technology’s performance, its impact on public safety, and employment in the trucking sector. The report will include information on disengagements and crashes and offer recommendations regarding the need for human safety operators in heavy-duty AVs.

Once approved, the DMV will need to wait another year before issuing permits for fully autonomous trucks. This means that California may not see autonomous trucks operating without a human driver until at least 2030.

“DMV opposes AB 316 because it will not increase safety and will, in fact, have a chilling effect on the development of technology in California that is intended to result in increased safety benefits on our roadways,” said the DMV in a statement.

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