September 12, 2023

California Senate votes to ban driverless trucks


The California Senate joined the state Assembly in overwhelmingly voting to ban heavy-duty driverless trucks on state highways. Whether to sign or veto the bill is now up to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The government through Newsom’s business office has been critical of Assembly Bill 316, but he has not said what he will do. The former San Francisco mayor is a big technology backer but also courts labor unions, which are the loudest voices behind the legislation.

Essentially, the bill, which passed Monday in a 36-2 vote, requires that autonomous trucks weighing more than 10,001 pounds have human safety drivers in the cab. Other provisions would allow legislators to take the place of state agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol. The state assembly passed the bill 69-4 in May.

Bill would ban driverless trucks weighing more than 10,001 pounds

Heavy-duty trucks weighing more than 10,001 pounds are in autonomous testing in Texas and New Mexico and approved in more than 20 other states.

“We are disappointed to see AB 316 pass the California Senate. The Department of Motor Vehicles and Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development were correct that AB 316 undermines oversight of expert regulators in California,” Jeff Farrah, executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association (AVIA), said in a statement.

“We urge Governor Newsom to veto AB 316 so experts in his administration can evaluate autonomous trucking technology and ensure California benefits from the technology,” Farrah said.

Key freight routes converge in California

California is home to several autonomous trucking startups as well as autonomous ride-hailing pioneers Waymo and Cruise. The state has two major freight routes — Interstates 10 and 5 — that travel west to east and north to south, respectively.

The Teamsters who support Newsom are demanding that he sign the bill and will rally next Tuesday outside the statehouse in Sacramento and in Los Angeles. They cite a survey showing three in four Californians favor a ban on autonomous trucks. That is consistent with general feelings about robot driving, which many say they fear.

“During the pandemic, Gov. Newsom thanked Teamster truck drivers for risking their lives to keep the economy afloat. But he actually needs to prove that he cares about workers by signing AB 316,” Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien said in a news release after the Senate vote Monday.

Safe or not safe technology

“If Gov. Newsom vetoes this bill, he is putting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of truck drivers at risk, while jeopardizing public safety,” O’Brien said.

Organized labor points to the untested record of robot-driven trucks and the loss of jobs as consequences of a veto. 

The AVIA counters that all major studies and the 44 million miles of autonomous trucking to date have resulted in practically no crashes. Jobs lost in over-the-road trucking, which are already hard to fill, would be replaced by less stressful work in and around autonomous hubs where human drivers would take control.

Newsom leans toward allowing autonomous trucking in California

Are driverless trucks in California a dead issue?

California State Assembly votes to ban driverless trucks

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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