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Assembly Bill 316 May Postpone the Use of Driverless Trucks in California

Categories: Trucking.

The California State Assembly passed Assembly Bill 316 (AB 316) on May 31, 2023. The bill will now head to the state Senate, and if passed, it will go to Gov. Gavin Newsom to be signed into law.

Let’s explore AB 316, and the implications for the future of California trucking.

What is AB 316?

AB 316 would ban driverless trucks in California of over 10,000 pounds from operating without a safety driver in the cab. AB 316, authored by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, was first introduced in January and received bipartisan support in the State Assembly.

The bill was introduced just as the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) held a public workshop to discuss regulatory considerations around autonomous vehicles (AVs). The reasoning for the bill is multifaceted: not only are driverless semis still in testing phases, which has elicited widespread concerns regarding public safety, but labor unions have also expressed misgivings about AV technology infringing on truck driving jobs.

On May 31, the Assembly voted 54-3 to pass the bill, and it will be handed off to the State Senate. If it passes in the Senate, and Gov. Gavin Newsom signs it into law, the bill would take effect in 2024.

What are the arguments for and against driverless trucks in California?

Let’s explore the different arguments for and against driverless trucks in California.

Arguments For Driverless Trucks

  • Safety improvements — AVs would make the roads safer since human error (fatigue, traffic mistakes) is a common cause of vehicular accidents
  • Supply chain efficiency — Driverless trucks would increase speed and efficiency when transporting cargo, since AVs would eliminate the need for rest stops and sleep

Arguments Against Driverless Trucks

  • Safety concerns — Opponents cite safety concerns, as it’s still a largely unproven technology that’s previously caused traffic accidents, and the DMV/AV industry have concealed key safety data from the public eye
  • DMV regulation — Opponents disapprove of the DMV’s driverless tech regulations, and they want to limit the DMV’s authority to regulate AVs
  • Job loss — Truck driver unions, labor consultants, politicians, and other labor groups claim AV technology would eliminate trucking jobs on a broad scale
  • Legal concerns — Opponents cite questions of liability in case of AV traffic accidents

How will AB 316 impact the trucking industry

If AB 316 is signed into law, autonomous trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds in California would require a safety driver in the cab for the foreseeable future, until sufficient safety testing is complete.

This law would be a major blow to companies developing AV technology, especially ones headquartered in California. It would be far more difficult for AV companies to sell autonomous-vehicular tech to trucking companies if they’d need to pay the drivers inside the trucks.

This law would also complicate interstate shipment runs for AV companies. Companies are testing driverless vehicles in multiple states, including Florida, Texas, and Arizona, and state laws around autonomous vehicles vary. AV companies would face significant challenges complying with different state laws on interstate shipments.

Although AB 316 would temporarily help maintain job security for California truck drivers, advances in autonomous trucking technology will continue. Testing autonomous trucks is only legal in California with in-cab drivers present, but testing the technology with or without drivers is currently legal in multiple other states.

The success of AB 316 in California will be ultimately determined by the state Senate and Gov. Newsom.

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