California lawmakers have advanced a high-profile bill that would ban the operation of heavy autonomous vehicles without a human in the cab.
Last week, AB 316 passed the California Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee with bipartisan support and is headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
AB 316 was introduced in the California Legislature on January 23, 2023, by Assembly Member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry.
“I was simply horrified to present my bill in a California Legislative hearing and have to listen to the representative of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association imply that our Nation’s, and our State’s, professional and skilled truckers are dangerous, drunk and texting drivers who pose a deathly risk to the public,” said Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry(D-Winters). “The callous disregard for these stewards of our highways and freeways, motivated by profit, is simply appalling. My motivation, on the other hand, is my commitment to Californians’ safety on the roads, and that safety is best protected by keeping well-trained human beings in the cab of 80,000 pound vehicles traveling at high speeds. When this industry proves to me, my colleagues, and our constituents that human-less trucking, and driverless school buses, are safer than our model in California, they will have the support to proceed.”
While California law currently allows for the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles weighing under 10,000 pounds without a human driver physically inside the vehicle, the California Department of Motor Vehicles is currently considering new rules to allow the testing of medium and heavy-duty commercial vehicles without a human driver present.
AB 316 would address this by “prohibit[ing] the 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 present in the autonomous vehicle at the time of operation.”
The bill has the support of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the California Labor Federation, who argue that autonomous vehicle technology threatens the livelihood of thousands of workers.
“AB 316 is common sense legislation that, in addition to keeping our roads safe, would protect thousands of good-paying jobs in California. Being a Teamster truck driver, I’m able to provide for my family with my pay and take care of my sick wife thanks to our unmatched health benefits,” said Mike Fry, professional truck driver of 27 years and member of Teamsters Local 2785. “Tech companies say that more autonomous vehicles mean more jobs, but it’s hard to believe that when the industry is leading the way in mass layoffs. We saw what happened in manufacturing, where more jobs were lost to automation than outsourcing. Let me be clear: I’m not against technology, but I am against tech giants putting it before human lives and wellbeing.”