SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A bill that would ban the testing of autonomous vehicles over 10,000 pounds cleared the California Assembly May 31 and was sent to the state Senate. The bill was strongly supported by both the Teamsters and the California Labor Federation.
Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Burbank), who chairs the Transportation Committee, explained that leaving the task of supervising testing of autonomous large vehicles to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is not an acceptable option.
“It was appropriate, given the size of these vehicles and the speed at which they go, that the legislature is a backstop and has the ability to decide when they’re ready to be deployed on public streets without a driver,” she told The Trucker.
“The DMV is not routinely collecting all of the data about various incidents that occur with those vehicles,” she explained. “They’re redacting a lot of the information, and that’s something that made policymakers feel nervous about allowing the DMV to be the only decider of when these vehicles will be able to be used without humans.”
Friedman pointed out that the state of California does allow autonomous operation of smaller vehicles without human supervision.
“It’s just with this larger class of vehicles, where there was a push to make sure that we were confident in the technology,” she said.
Friedman is also concerned about loss of jobs in the trucking industry — a topic near and dear to most drivers.
“I think that there’s also a very important conversation about what you do with people who depend on trucking for their livelihood,” she said. “They can’t just accept tens of thousands of job losses as collateral damage in the quest for efficiency and safety.”
The bill provided a plan whereby the ban on driverless vehicles could be lifted at a future date, with the approval of the state legislature. It starts with annual “disengagement” reports from manufacturers of autonomous vehicles to the DMV; these reports will provide details noting each time a vehicle’s autonomous system was deactivated by the technology, a human driver, a passenger or a remote operator. The DMV is charged with planning and implementing the reporting system.
Five years after the commencement of testing, the DMV must submit a report to California’s Legislature with a summary of the annual reports and a recommendation of whether the Legislature should remove, modify or maintain the requirement for a driver to be present. The report must be prepared in conjunction with other state agencies, including Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and others.
After another year — and if authorized by the Legislature — the DMV may issue permits for autonomous vehicle operation without a driver present.
California’s AB316 requires the manufacturer to provide a $5 million surety bond or evidence of self-insurance, specifies that the technology must allow the driver to take control with the accelerator, brake pedal or steering wheel, and requires an indicator that tells the driver when the autonomous system is active. There’s also a data storage requirement.
Friedman, who is a candidate for the state’s 30th U.S. congressional district, says she believes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is equipped to supervise testing of autonomous vehicles, but has yet to develop standards for the technology.
“They don’t really have standards for the brains inside these vehicles,” she said. “They only have standards for the for the physical vehicle. They have to also have a safety standard for AI (artificial intelligence) technology in the vehicles.”
During her conversation with The Trucker, Friedman made it clear that she supports autonomous vehicles — but safety comes first.
“To me, these technologies at this point are a wonderful tool, but they don’t replace the brains of humans when they need to step in,” she said. “It’ll be in the future (when) that changes, but that’s where we are right now.”
AB316 is expected to pass the heavily Democratic Senate but could be amended before it makes its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signing.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.