Jul 02, 2023

California’s AV bill advances as industry, legislators clash on safety issues

Proposal would require heavy-duty autonomous trucks to have a human operator onboard.

The California State Assembly passed a bill that could require heavy-duty AV trucks to keep safety operators onboard until a series of reviews after Jan. 1, 2029.

The lower house approved the bill 54-4, which would require autonomous vehicles of 10,001 pounds or more to have a safety operator present.

Potential changes would also require the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a report on AV safety and recommendation on the safety operator matter, followed by a legislative oversight hearing. Additionally, lawmakers and the governor would have to sign off on fully autonomous operations.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters praised the move, saying "AB316 will keep California roads safe" and AV companies "will create more middle class jobs than they destroy."

Legislators pushing the bill said they’re supportive of the industry but want more oversight, rather than having approvals in this area rest solely with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The bill's lead sponsor, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, said in the statehouse Wednesday before the vote that safety issues and incidents in San Francisco with light-duty vehicles were factors in the move.

She said witness videos and emergency calls showed that driverless vehicles have stopped suddenly, caused accidents, blocked emergency vehicles and driven through emergency scenes and into downed wires

"There is nothing about a human safety operator that prevents the autonomous trucking industry from testing and deploying autonomous vehicles anywhere in California," she said, adding that removing the operator at this time would be done to cut costs and jeopardize safety.

But the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association said otherwise. The group has been making the case that the technology makes vehicles safer.

"AB 316 is a preemptive technology ban that will put California even further behind other states and lock in the devastating safety status quo on California's roads, which saw more than 4,400 people die last year," AVIA Executive Director Jeff Farrah said in a statement.

The bill is now before the Senate, which Democrats control along with the Assembly and governorship.