September 23, 2023

Governor vetoes autonomous trucking ban in California


California Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed Teamsters-backed legislation to effectively ban heavy-duty driverless trucks in the state.

“Assembly Bill 316 is unnecessary for the regulation and oversight of heavy-duty autonomous vehicle technology in California. Existing law provides sufficient authority to create the appropriate regulatory framework,” Newsom wrote to the California Assembly on Friday, saying he would not sign the bill.

The veto maintains the status quo. Autonomous trucks over 10,001 pounds still must have human safety drivers. Had Newsom signed the bill, safety monitors would have become permanent.

“[The Department of Motor Vehicles] continuously monitors the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on California roads and has the authority to suspend or revoke permits as necessary to protect the public’s safety,” Newsom wrote.

Overwhelming legislative support for ban

Both legislative chambers overwhelmingly supported AB 316. It was introduced in January after the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol began discussions about a framework governing heavy-duty autonomous trucking. The state allows driverless vehicles up to 10,000 pounds, mostly ride-hailing passenger vehicles.

The state legislature has not overturned a gubernatorial veto since 1979. 

The Teamsters union protested outside Newsom’s office in Sacramento on Tuesday, continuing a pressure campaign that included political tough talk. Newsom is a former mayor of San Francisco with long ties to the technology industry. Labor is his other major constituency.

“Gov. Newsom, I got a message for you: you want to [veto] this bill and take on 1.2 million Teamsters in this country? Put your helmet on and buckle in your chinstrap,” said Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien.

Legislators and organized labor said AB 316 was needed to protect trucking jobs and to protect lives from robot-driven trucks. The Teamsters touted polling that showed more than three in four California residents supported the autonomous trucking ban.

Newsom hinted at a veto through his business office in August

Newsom hinted at his intent to veto the bill. His Office of Business and Economic Development criticized the proposed legislation in an Aug. 15 letter to AB 316 sponsors. 

At the end of his veto letter, Newsom appeared to offer an olive branch.

“My Administration remains open to working with… stakeholders on the right approach to safely test and deploy this evolving technology in California, while also addressing and mitigating any potential impacts to jobs.”

Newsom directed the state’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency to lead a stakeholder process in 2024 to review and develop recommendations to mitigate the potential employment impact of testing and deployment of autonomous heavy-duty vehicles.

Bill opponents celebrate Newsom’s veto

The Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association (AVIA), which led opposition to the bill, celebrated the veto.

“As a result, California’s safety experts can continue to evaluate autonomous vehicle technology and consider appropriate regulatory action,” said Jeff Farrah, AVIA executive director. “We look forward to continuing to work with the California DMV, California Highway Patrol, Labor and Workforce Development Agency and other state regulators.”

Added Don Burnette, co-founder and CEO of Mountain View-based Kodiak Robotics, in an email to FreightWaves: “We are very thankful to Governor Newsom for his principled decision to veto AB 316 and allow California’s safety experts, not its politicians, to regulate the autonomous vehicle industry.”

California Senate votes to ban driverless trucks

Newsom leans toward allowing autonomous trucking in California 

Are driverless trucks in California a dead issue?

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.


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