California AB 316, which would ban autonomous semi-trailer trucks and require a trained human safety operator whenever it drives on public roads in the state, was passed by the state Senate on Monday in a vote of 36-2, delivering a major blow to the autonomous trucking industry.
The bill needs Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature to become law, and his reputation as being tech-friendly suggests he may veto it.
Proponents of the bill, nearly three-fourths of Californians according to a recent poll, have argued the legislation offers safety protections for cyclists, pedestrians, drivers and fellow road users as well as job security for humans in the trucking industry.
Opponents claim it hinders lifesaving technology and dampens California’s economic competitiveness in the industry, citing the positive impacts autonomous trucks have had on the supply chain in nearby states, including Arizona and Texas. They’ve also argued that the trucks have driven tens of millions of miles in the past two years without causing a fatality, illustrating their potential to improve road safety.
In addition to the governor’s signature, AB 316 requires the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which opposes the bill, to submit a report on AV technology’s potential impact on public safety before it can issue permits. That provision could delay fully autonomous trucks until 2030.
The bill’s bipartisan authors have stated that they do not wish to permanently end driverless trucking in California, but would rather wait until the state’s legislature is confident that the technology is safe enough to remove a human driver.
Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission approved permits for autonomous vehicle companies Waymo and Cruise to expand driverless operations in San Francisco, amid heated testimony from the community, local leaders and public safety officials.
The California DMV currently prohibits AVs weighing more than 10,000 pounds from operating in the state.