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AB 316 Severely Restricts Self-Driving Semi-Trucks

California lawmakers propose AB 316, which would require all self-driving cars to be operated by a human.

Many industry representatives have gone against this bill stating that it is misguided.

“Rather than doing the responsible thing and waiting to see what a co-equal branch of government is doing, (legislators) are stepping in the middle and lighting a stick of dynamite,” said Jeff Farrah, executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association.

On May 31, California assembly members voted to pass Assembly Bill 316. With bipartisan support the bill severely restricts autonomous semi-trucks and big rigs.

“Let’s face it. There are a lot of people in Big Tech lobbying against this bill, and you know they have the ear of the governor and his staff,” said the bill’s author, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters). “But we need to make sure that the roads are safe for the sake of our constituents and that jobs are safe for our truck drivers.”

The next step for AB 316 is for it to pass in the California Senate then it would need to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The goal for this bill is to spark the national conversation on regulations surrounding the risks around automation and artificial intelligence.

Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), who voted in support, said she had “not been impressed” with the DMV’s actions around autonomous vehicles up to this point.

“Unfortunately, the DMV has failed to keep track of problems that are occurring right now with the autonomous vehicles that are on the road,” Friedman said, pointing to cars shutting down in the middle of streets and on transit tracks, or trying to flee police.

“The fact of the matter is, if a human was driving like some of these vehicles, they probably would have had their license suspended by now.”

Advocates of AB 316 include San Francisco Mayor London Breed and U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff. The California Labor Federation and International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents truck drivers across the state. Teamster was also a key player in crafting the bill.

“In our view, autonomous vehicles are a direct threat to good, middle-class jobs,” said Peter Finn, western region vice president for the Teamsters. 

“The purpose of why these autonomous vehicles are being created and why big corporations want to use this technology is for one reason only — and that’s to cut their labor costs.”

The autonomous driving technology company, Aurora, has partnered with FedEx to transport shipments between major metropolitan areas across Texas.

Mufaddal Ezzy, Aurora’s senior director of state public affairs, said the company takes safety seriously and its trucks operate almost exclusively on highways to avoid congestion on the pedestrian roads

“I think what’s oftentimes unfortunately lost in the debate is that this human-driven status quo is incredibly tragic and getting worse,” he said. “There’s an opportunity here for autonomous trucks to really help make an impact on that.”

Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, argues that lawmakers are conflating autonomous driving technology with advanced driver assist technology. 

Driver assist technology, such as Tesla’s autopilot capabilities, requires assistance from a human operator while autonomous vehicles drive without any human assistance.

The Bottom Line

Technology is usually miles ahead of legislation, however in this case specifically, lawmakers are attempting to solve the problem before it becomes unmanageable. 

Should AB 316 pass and be integrated, self-driving semi-trucks will either be heavily regulated or banned from the transportation industry.

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