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Assemblywoman Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Bill To Require a Driver in Driverless Trucks Reintroduced In Assembly

Previous bill was vetoed by Newsom in September despite bipartisan support

By Evan Symon, February 9, 2024 12:17 pm

A bill to require driverless trucks to have a driver in the vehicle was reintroduced in the Assembly on Thursday, less than 5 months after Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the almost identical AB 316.

Assembly Bill 2286, authored by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), would require a manufacturer of an autonomous vehicle to report to the department a collision on a public road that involved one of its autonomous vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 pounds or more that is operating under a testing permit that resulted in damage of property, bodily injury, or death within 10 days of the collision. In addition, the bill would require a manufacturer of an autonomous vehicle to annually submit to the department specified information regarding the deactivation of the autonomous mode for its autonomous vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 pounds or more that were operating under a testing permit that authorized the vehicle to operate on public roads.

Most critically, AB 2286 would prohibit the operation of an autonomous vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 10,001 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.

In essence, AB 2286 is virtually a copy of last year’s AB 316, a bill also authored by Aguiar-Curry that sought to include drivers on autonomous vehicle trucks. While the bill had bipartisan support and easily passed the Assembly and Senate, creating an odd mix of supporters that included Teamsters, Republicans, and Democrats, the AV vehicle industry and silicon valley tech supporters influenced Governor Newsom to veto the bill last September.

Since then, the backlash against autonomous vehicles in California has only grown. A number of high profile incidents of robotaxis getting into accidents and injuring people in San Francisco led to Cruise suspending operations in the state, with Californian agencies suing many robotaxi companies as well over incidents.

As of February, the future of robotaxis in other Californian markets such as Los Angeles is currently in doubt, with Waymo, the only robotaxi company left operating in San Francisco, being scrutinized over an accident of their own recently. AV backlash in Sacramento has also been strong, with many bills coming up this session already over the industry.

With more accidents and incidents involving AV’s popping up since the veto, Assemblywoman Aguiar-Curry and the Teamsters brought back the AV trucking bill this week, as there is now even more support from both parties in both houses in favor of having safety drivers be added to trucks. And, like AB 316, while safety is the primary concern, the Teamsters concern of keeping union drivers employed by being safety drivers in the AV trucks was also fulfilled, creating yet another strong bloc of support.

“To protect public safety and good jobs, the Teamsters and California lawmakers will announce the reintroduction of the autonomous vehicle (AV) human operator bill at a rally on Monday, February 12, at 2pm PT,” the Teamsters said in a press release Friday. “AB 2286, formerly Assembly Bill 316, requires a trained human operator behind the wheel of self-driving trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds, putting safety first while preserving hundreds of thousands of good-paying trucking jobs.”

“Since Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed AB 316 in September 2023, robotaxis have wreaked havoc on California streets, with one Cruise robotaxi running over a pedestrian and dragging her 20 feet in San Francisco. In the wake of this safety incident, the U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Cruise, while San Francisco has brought a lawsuit against the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for allowing for the expansion of robotaxis in the city. Monday’s rally is the latest escalation by the Teamsters to keep unsafe autonomous vehicles off our streets, protect good-paying union jobs, and ensure local communities have a say in AV deployment.”

AV truck driver bill is back for round 2

However, opposition against AB 2286 is already reforming, with AV manufacturers coming out in opposition of the bill.

In a statement, Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association CEO Jeff Farrah said, “The autonomous vehicle industry agrees with Governor Gavin Newsom who concluded just a few months ago that a ban on autonomous trucks in California is ‘unnecessary.’ California’s expert safety regulators and law enforcement officials oversee the safe deployment of AVs and consider appropriate regulatory action. AB 2286 is particularly disappointing considering Governor Newsom has directed the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to lead a process on workforce matters and autonomous heavy-duty vehicles.”

“Let’s be clear: California needs truck drivers and autonomous trucks, and both will thrive together in the future. California faces acute supply chain challenges, and truck drivers and autonomous trucks will work together to support the state’s farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses. The AV industry looks forward to continued dialogue with California lawmakers on these important issues and to continued work with California safety, labor and economic officials.”

Labor experts told the Globe on Friday that with bipartisan support for AB 2286 being even stronger than last year, and opposition coming from the same places once again, the bill will come down to one person: Gavin Newsom.

“You can have all the rallies you want and get labor leaders locking arms with the most conservative Republicans in favor of this bill. But this will all just come down to Newsom again,” labor consultant Jeanne Rogers told the Globe. “What’s changed since September to now is public perception. The public was more on board with AV vehicles back in September. But now, after all these accidents and robotaxis making drivers mad in every city that they’re in, including San Francisco, it isn’t boding well this time around for defenders.”

“AV cars might be the future, but right now, there are way too many bugs to work out. The image alone of these big trucks behaving like these robotaxis were in San Francisco is not great. The drivers is a safe compromise. Technology would be allowed to improve while also having a human failsafe. And also, the Teamsters and other unions, extremely worried about a loss in membership from these AV vehicles, will get a reprieve for awhile. This time around, we’ll see if Newsom listens to the people. He got away with it once, only for AV support to plummet. The big question will be if he risks it again.”

A Teamsters rally with both Democratic and Republican supporters in favor of the bill is set to take place Monday in Sacramento at the state Capitol.

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