California bill would require drivers in autonomous trucks
March 16, 2023
A California Assembly bill to require human operators behind the wheels of commercial autonomous trucks progressed from one committee to cheers and jeers of industry stakeholders.
This week, the Transportation Committee voted to pass the legislation to the Committee on Communications & Conveyance.
California Democratic lawmakers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Laura Friedman and Ash Kalra and Republican Tom Lackey are listed as primary sponsors of AB316. Introduced in January, the bill would impose a de facto ban on autonomous trucks in the state by requiring a human operator. The bill has the backing of 24 Democrats and one Republican, according to Legiscan.
Text from the bill:
An autonomous vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or more shall not be operated on public roads for testing purposes, transporting goods, or transporting passengers without a human safety operator physically present in the autonomous vehicle at the time of operation.
It also defines “human safety operator” as a person operating an autonomous vehicle or vehicle equipped with autonomous technology who is trained in operating and shutting off the vehicle. A human safety operator shall meet all federal and state qualifications for the type of vehicle being operated, whether in automated or nonautomated mode, according to the proposed bill.
The assemblymembers’ legislation is a response to the California Department of Motor Vehicles devising a regulatory framework to allow autonomous vehicles over 10,000 pounds on the state’s highways.
Union support of the autonomous trucks bill
The autonomous trucks bill was applauded by the Teamsters and the California Labor Federation
“As AB316 passes through the California legislature, the California Department of Motor Vehicles is considering a regulatory framework that would allow for autonomous vehicles over 10,000 pounds to hit the road, possibly within one year, without consent from the state legislature,” Jason Rabinowitz, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7, said in a union statement. “This is not about the ban of technology. This is about what’s best for Californians.”
California is not one of the 22 states that allow the testing of driverless vehicles on the road with a gross weight over 10,000 pounds, even though the state is home to several developers of autonomous vehicle technology.
Tech advocates oppose the bill
Some stakeholders oppose the bill, which they say is premature.
“Contrary to misconceptions, autonomous trucks will enhance safety on California’s roads while supporting existing jobs and creating new ones,” Jeff Farrah, executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, said in a statement to the news media. “AB316 is a premature ban on the technology at a time when California safety officials are overseeing a robust, public stakeholder process.
“Though we are disappointed in today’s vote, we aren’t surprised given the number of co-sponsors on the committee. The AV industry welcomes open conversations about AV trucks’ safety and economic benefits, and we will continue to oppose the bill’s ban on the technology throughout the full legislative process.”
The Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association reports that more than 43 business organizations and companies signed a letter for the record opposing AB316 before the hearing. Signers include CalChamber, California Small Business Association, US Xpress, California Manufacturers & Technology Association and the California Hispanic Chamber, in addition to California autonomous vehicle companies.
The opponents say the legislation would impose a permanent ban on Level 4 driverless trucks in California. It would sidestep safety regulators at the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol. In addition, the state would fall further behind on deploying autonomous trucks. LL