California governor vetoes bill to require humans in autonomous trucks

25 Sep 2023

Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019. Image: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Governor Gavin Newsom of California argued that the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles provides ‘sufficient authority’ to regulate the space.

The governor of California has vetoed a bill that would have required a human safety officer to be present on board a driverless truck while on public roads.

Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 316 on Friday (22 September) even though it was passed by a majority in both houses of the state’s legislature. Specifically, the bill would have required a trained human driver to be present in any autonomous vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds.

Essentially, it was a ban on driverless heavy-duty trucks, which would have been welcome many in the state’s labour unions but a big setback for the AV industry.

Newsom argued in a letter to lawmakers that Assembly Bill 316 is “unnecessary” for the regulation and oversight of heavy-duty autonomous vehicle technology in California because existing law “provides sufficient authority to create the appropriate regulatory framework”.

He said that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in California has been working with traffic and highway authorities to determine the regulations necessary for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads.

“DMV continuously monitors the testing and operations of autonomous vehicles on California roads and has the authority to suspend or revoke permits as necessary to protect the public’s safety,” said Newsom, who is a member of the Democratic Party.

“Autonomous vehicle technology is evolving, and DMV remains committed to keeping our rules up to date to reflect its continued development in California.”

California, home to many of the world’s leading AV companies and start-ups, has been rapidly embracing autonomous vehicles of all sizes.

Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted 3-1 in favour of giving Waymo and Cruise permits to operate robotaxis 24/7 in San Francisco after hearing arguments from both sides that included concerns around safety and traffic congestion.

“While we do not yet have the data to judge AVs against the standard human drivers are setting, I do believe in the potential of this technology to increase safety on the roadway,” CPUC commissioner John Reynolds, a former general counsel at Cruise, said at the time.

To address the impact this may have on the chunk of California’s workforce working as truck drivers, Newsom said in his letter that he is concerned about the impact of technology on the future of work and has taken steps to alleviate harm.

“I am committed to incentivising career pathways and training for the necessary workforce specifically associated with this technology,” he wrote.

“As such, I am directing the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to lead a stakeholder process next year to review and develop recommendations to mitigate the potential employment impact of testing and deployment of autonomous heavy-duty vehicles.”

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Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019. Image: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic