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California Senate Passes Autonomous Trucking Bill

The California Senate passed a bill on Sept. 11 that limits autonomous trucking by prohibiting them from being driven without a human operator behind the wheel for the next five years.

The bill points out its concern for safety, while the governor’s office expressed their concerns surrounding innovation.

The next step for the legislation is for Gov. Newsom to either sign the bill or veto it.

California’s business development office wrote a letter to the bill sponsors arguing that the bill would hamper the state’s competitiveness, limit supply chain innovation and undermine existing oversight.

Assembly Bill 316, passed the Senate on a 36-2 vote. It would require driverless trucks, weighing from 10,000 pounds to big rigs weighing 80,000 pounds, to have a human safety driver on board. 

The requirement would remain in place for at least five years, but the official language of the bill says the Legislature could remove that requirement earlier if it’s reasonably confident about vehicle safety.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, (D-Winters).

“There is a reason why local elected and public safety officials, local firefighters and police officers, and the state’s highway patrol officers all support AB 316. They, and we, want a collaborative, truly public process between the Legislature, local officials and the executive branch in making these decisions that impact the safety of millions of California travelers and hundreds of thousands of jobs, “ she said after the vote on Sept. 11.

The two ‘no’ votes came from Sens. Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) and Steve Glazer (D-Orinda). Glazer said requiring human drivers in experimental robot trucks was equivalent to demanding that people use typewriters.

If Newsom vetoes the bill, Aguiar-Curry’s office said, she’ll push for an override vote. A two-thirds majority vote in each house of the Legislature would be required.

Another key issue with autonomous trucking is the potential job loss, which the Teamster union group has vocalized is their main concern. 

Proponents say that too is a concern, but the key is making sure massive semi-trucks can operate safely on state highways.

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