California driverless truck ban passes committee

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Updated Apr 21, 2023

A bill that effectively bans driverless commercial trucks in California cleared another hurdle Wednesday, passing the state Committee on Communications and Conveyance. Introduced in January, the legislation is authored by California Assembly Members Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), Asm. Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), and Asm. Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), and previously passed the California Assembly Transportation Committee.

AB316 prohibits an operation of an autonomous vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or more on public roads for testing purposes, transporting goods or transporting passengers without a human safety operator physically inside the truck at the time of operation.

Ahead of the hearing, more than 55 business organizations and companies of all sizes interested in AV trucks signed a letter for the record opposing AB316, with a roll of co-signers that include Institute for Safer Trucking, CalChamber, California Small Business Association, US Xpress (CCJ Top 250, No. 19), California Manufacturers & Technology Association, California Hispanic Chamber, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and state-based AV companies.

"... AB316 continues to be an effective ban on this life-saving technology with no pathway for Californians to benefit from autonomous trucks," the group wrote in its letter. "... supporters of AB 316 have shown zero evidence that AV trucks are unsafe or will cause mass layoffs of truck drivers. This committee is being asked to take action based on nothing more than speculation."

More than 4,250 motorists were killed on California roads in 2021 and more than 10% of crashes involved a large truck. Jeff Farrah, executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, said autonomous trucks would increase safety on the roads by removing impaired, distracted and drowsy driving errors, adding “California’s safety officials and law enforcement are the experts qualified to oversee this technology, but unfortunately AB 316 disrupts this process. We are disappointed that the committee moved AB316 forward, and we will continue to oppose this premature ban on AV trucks as it continues to move through the legislative process.”

Even as AB316 passes through the California legislature, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is considering a regulatory framework that would allow for autonomous vehicles over 10,000 pounds to hit the road, possibly within one year, without consent from the state legislature.

California is home to more than a half-dozen developers of autonomous technologies, yet isn't one of the 22 states that allow the testing of driverless vehicles on the road with a gross weight over 10,000 pounds, and the state's regulations currently have California mostly sitting on the sidelines as autonomous tech companies increasingly forge freight-hauling partnerships and clear safety hurdles on a path to commercial viability. 

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected].