California Governor Vetoes Bill to Ban Driverless Trucks

Newsom says the bill is unnecessary for the regulation and oversight of heavy-duty autonomous vehicle technology in the state

Graham Hope

September 25, 2023

3 Min Read
A truck alone on a highway
Getty Images

A bill that would have prevented driverless trucks from operating and testing in the state of California has been vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom.

The controversial bill, known as AB316, was previously passed by the state Senate and also the California Assembly.

It would have required a trained human safety operator to be present at all times in heavy-duty autonomous vehicles (AVs) – those that weigh more than 10,000 pounds – on public roads.

However, despite heavy support from both Republicans and Democrats, AB316 needed the approval of Gov. Newsom to become law – and that has not materialized.

In a letter dated Sept. 22, Democrat Newsom wrote to the state Assembly to explain: “I am returning Assembly Bill 316 without my signature. Assembly Bill 316 is 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.”

Had it been enacted, AB316 would have removed the power of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue testing and deployment permits to autonomous truck companies.

Newsom pointed out that as part of its responsibilities, “DMV consults with the California Highway Patrol, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and others with relevant expertise to determine the regulations necessary for the safe operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads.”

Related:California Senate Passes Bill to Ban Driverless Trucks

Additionally, it had sought feedback from “interested stakeholders earlier this year” to inform the development of future regulation for both “light-duty and heavy-duty autonomous vehicles.” 

Newsom promised that any future regulation would be “a transparent, public process where subject matter experts and other stakeholders will have the opportunity to shape the regulations related to the safe operations of autonomous vehicles in California.”

AB316 had been heavily backed by the Teamsters Union, who have expressed concern over autonomous trucks’ potential impact on job security for truckers while questioning how safe the vehicles are.

The depth of feeling Newsom’s decision has prompted was illustrated by an angry reaction from Teamsters general president Sean O’Brien, who said on X, formerly known as Twitter: “@GavinNewsom doesn’t have the guts to face working people. He’d rather give our jobs away in the dead of night. Late yesterday, the California Gov vetoed AB316 that would have put human operators in autonomous vehicles, saving jobs and protecting communities.

Related:California Aims to Mandate Drivers in Self-Driving Trucks

“95% bipartisan support in the legislature and 75% public support, but Newsom still killed it. He’s giving a greenlight to put these dangerous rigs on the road. Any politician who turns their back on workers to curry campaign contributions from Corporate America and Big Tech better square up. Teamsters will not walk away from this fight.”

Newsom addressed job concerns by saying: “I am 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.”

A campaign to allow driverless testing had been heavily backed by autonomous driving tech companies, who argued that if the bill had been passed and a human presence in self-driving trucks was necessary, the benefits of autonomy would be lost. There were also concerns that a ban would see California fall behind other states, such as Texas, where testing is allowed.

The prevailing mood was summed up by Waymo, which said on X: “We applaud Gov @gavinewsom on his veto of AB316. With this, CA cements its place as a leader in autonomous tech, ensures residents will experience its safety benefits and innovative jobs will continue to grow there. We look forward to continuing to work with regulators on this.”

Related:AV Leaders Urge Officials to Allow Self-Driving Trucks in California

About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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