A bill to require driverless trucks to have a driver in the vehicle passed the Senate in a 36-2 vote on Wednesday, moving to the Governor’s desk for either his signature or veto.
Assembly Bill 316, authored by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) would prohibit 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.
While AB 316 was authored by Assemblywoman Aguiar-Curry, it was introduced with a bipartisan group of legislators, including Assemblymen Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) and Ash Kalra (D-San Jose). Both parties have also had a few members each oppose the legislation throughout the year, leading to strange non-party coalitions. Democrats have largely been in favor of the bill because due to alleged safety benefits of the bill as well as massive support of the bill coming from unions such as the Teamsters. Republicans, meanwhile, have been mostly for AB 316 because of many rural areas wanting to keep trucking jobs.
“This joint effort with the Teamsters and Labor Federation will slow the profit-motivated drive to human-less trucking by putting the Legislature between venture capital, well-paid jobs and public safety,” said Assemblywoman Aguiar-Curry earlier this year. “We will continue to fight to protect our expert trucking workforce. We will continue to fight to protect the traveling public. The road ahead will not be easy and we’ll need every working Californian to join the fight to have this bill become law this year.”
While AB 316 passed all Committees in the Assembly during the Spring, all of them had at least 3 members either voting no or abstaining. That trend carried over to the final Assembly vote in June, coming to 69-4 with 7 abstentions. However, with momentum building and lawmakers from across the aisle finding common ground, opposition dissipated even further in the Senate. This led to the Senate vote on Monday, where it passed 36-2 with two abstentions. The only Senators who voted no comprised of one Republican, Senator Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), and one Democrat, Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda).
Unions and labor groups praised the vote on Monday and tasked Governor Newsom to sign the bill into law in the coming month.
“During the pandemic, Gov. Newsom thanked Teamster truck drivers for risking their lives to keep the economy afloat. But he actually needs to prove that he cares about workers by signing AB 316,” said said Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien. “If Gov. Newsom vetoes this bill, he is putting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of truck drivers at risk, while jeopardizing public safety. The Teamsters rightfully stand against such dangerous technology. We will fight to make sure AB 316 becomes law.”
AB 316 awaits decision by Gov. Newsom
In a statement, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez added that “AV companies do not care about the safety and wellbeing of Californians. There are hundreds of thousands of trucking jobs in jeopardy due to automation in our state, and that’s a real problem that needs to be addressed now. AB 316 has seamlessly passed through the California Legislature with strong bipartisan support because safety and good jobs are issues everyone can get behind. It’s time for Gov. Newsom to sign AB 316 into law.”
Earlier this year, some pundits predicted that AV manufacturers and trucking companies would lead a serious attempt to divide support for AB 316 before September. Experts in previous Globe interviews also said that the “murkiness” of the bill could be worrisome later on, especially with different sides usually being at odds with each other. Despite this, the bill nonetheless passed the state legislature, managing to keep the coalition of lawmakers in place throughout the year.
“AB 316 saw far right Senators, unions, Senators in districts where AV companies are big, and Lorena Gonzalez all agree to not have driverless trucks go out on the road,” said labor consultant Jeanne Rogers to the Globe on Tuesday. “Not many thought the bill would get this far with this kind of support. But look. The GOP wants to keep a lot of rural trucking jobs up. Democrats wanted to continue to be union friendly.”
“And let’s not forget how safety issues keep coming up. Look at all those robotaxi accidents happening in San Francisco. Companies are voluntarily limiting the number there because of how many have happened. It’s a hard sell in San Francisco with just a small number of cars. We’re talking statewide with much bigger vehicles. Of course lawmakers here are less inclined to approve it.
“Oh, and votes. A recent poll showed that 73% of Californians are in favor of AB 316. For lawmakers, especially those looking at the lection next year, you can’t ignore an issue with that kind of support. 55% of voters is usually enough to give pause. Over 70%? Well, at that point, you have to really make sure that voting against that kind of support won’t backfire on you.”
AB 316 is currently on the Governor’s desk. Rallies in favor of AB 316 are currently planned to be held in Sacramento next week.
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