The California Senate has passed a bill, Assembly Bill 316, which mandates that autonomous trucks on state highways must have human drivers on board for at least the next five years. The bill received significant support in the Senate, passing with a 36-2 vote. The rationale behind this requirement is to ensure safety on the roads.
Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry sponsored the bill, emphasizing the importance of a collaborative approach involving elected officials, public safety officers, and other stakeholders in making decisions that impact the safety of California travelers and jobs. However, two Senators, Brian Dahle and Steve Glazer, opposed the bill, with Glazer likening the requirement for human drivers in experimental autonomous trucks to demanding people use typewriters.
The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, now faces the decision of whether to veto the bill or sign it into law. The governor’s office expressed concerns about the impact of the bill on innovation and the state’s competitiveness. If Governor Newsom chooses to veto the bill, there may be a push for an override vote, requiring a two-thirds majority vote in each house of the Legislature.
One of the key issues at play in this debate is the potential impact on jobs, as the Teamsters trucker union supports the bill. Proponents argue that the primary concern is ensuring the safe operation of large semi-trucks on state highways.
Safety concerns related to autonomous vehicles have been heightened due to incidents where driverless taxis from companies like Cruise and Waymo obstructed emergency vehicles and first responders in San Francisco. These incidents led to concerns about the rapid expansion of commercial autonomous vehicle operations and the role of the California Public Utilities Commission in approving these expansions.
Furthermore, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has faced criticism for its regulation of driverless car safety. Tesla’s Full-Self Driving technology, in particular, has come under scrutiny, as the DMV investigates whether Tesla is violating rules related to marketing autonomous technology while not achieving full self-driving capability.
Governor Newsom, who has been associated with Elon Musk and autonomous vehicle innovation, may have to weigh the potential benefits of fostering innovation against concerns about public safety in making his decision on the bill. This decision could have political implications for his future, including the possibility of a presidential run if circumstances permit.