Bills of 2023: Newsom vetoes bill to regulate driverless trucks

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Editor’s note: As 2023 draws to a close, The Signal is presenting CalMatters’ wrap-up stories on some of the key bills that reached the governor’s desk at the close of the 2023 legislative session. Here’s the CalMatters summary of Assembly Bill 316, which would have established new regulations for self-driving trucks. 

By Lynn La 
CalMatters Writer 

Assembly Bill 316 would have put limits on big, self-driving trucks (specifically, vehicles with a “gross vehicle weight of 10,001 pounds or more”), including having a backup “human safety operator” inside the truck while it’s in operation.  

The bill also would have required manufacturers to submit a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days of a collision resulting in death, injury or property damage, plus an annual report about any deactivation of an autonomous truck. The measure — authored by Democratic Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry of Davis and Laura Friedman of Burbank — also called for the DMV to submit a report to the Legislature on driverless trucks by Jan. 1, 2029, or five years after testing begins. 

Who Supports It  

One of the most vocal supporters is the Teamsters trucker union, which says it wants to preserve jobs and protect public safety. “The public should not be treated as a lab rat for big corporations to test their technology,” Randy Cammack, president of Teamsters Joint Council 42, said in a statement. The California Labor Federation and other unions also back the proposal. 

Who Is Opposed  

Tech companies that want to limit regulation, such as Alphabet’s Waymo and Tesla and multiple business groups are opposed. So is the DMV, which calls the bill “unnecessary” and says that criticism that it is not equipped to regulate autonomous vehicles are “unfounded.” 

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who as the former mayor of San Francisco has a long history with Big Tech, also opposes the bill, as first reported by Politico.  

“The bill fails to recognize that the federal government and nearly a dozen other states are moving forward with this technology. And many of those states are actively positioning themselves to lure away California-based companies and the investments and jobs they bring,” the governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development wrote to legislators. 

Why It Matters  

As big tech and automotive companies push to put more driverless vehicles on California roads, the bill is a bellwether: Will it preserve public safety and jobs? Or will it slow down innovative technology crucial to California’s economy?  

This battle already surfaced in August, after the California Public Utilities Commission agreed to allow more robotaxis to roam San Francisco’s streets. Citing instances of robotaxis blocking traffic lanes and stalling emergency vehicles — even during a recent mass shooting — the decision was lambasted by the city’s transit authority board, fire and police departments and board of supervisors.  

Now, this conflict has quickly reverberated to driverless commercial trucks, as legislators also try to wrestle away more regulatory powers from the DMV. 

Governor’s Call 

Newsom announced Sept. 22 he vetoed the bill, calling it “unnecessary for the regulation and oversight of heavy-duty autonomous vehicle technology in California, as existing law provides sufficient authority to create the appropriate regulatory framework.” 

He also said he’s aware of the potential impact of the technology on workers, so is 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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