A bill that would require all autonomous vehicles in California to be solely zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) by 2030 was signed into law by Governor Newsom on Thursday.
Senate Bill 500, authored by Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine), would specifically prohibit the operation of new light-duty autonomous vehicles that are not zero-emission vehicles by January 1, 2030. In addition, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) would not be allowed to create rules based on the new law until 2027.
Senator Min wrote SB 500 as a way to help accelerate the adoption of electric and zero-emissions vehicles in California and to help build an autonomous all-electric vehicle taxi service that wouldn’t have to face the high costs of converting to electric cars in the future and have a central place in which to charge. While the bill did not originally receive much opposition, enough grew due to concerns over implementation challenges that the hard date on electric vehicle adoption was moved from 2025 to 2030 in an early amendment, with heavier duty vehicles also being dropped from the bill in a later version through another amendment. The final version was enough to convince most Democrats of SB 500, passing 30-9 in the Senate and 53-20 in the Assembly earlier this month.
“This is a smart policy that will help California move toward its ambitious and necessary climate goals,” Elizabeth Irvin, an analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists who helped sponsor the bill, said in a statement earlier this month. “Cutting-edge sensor technology shouldn’t be paired with antiquated combustion engines. Automated vehicles can be part of a clean, equitable transportation system as long as they are run on zero-emission electricity, lead to widespread pooling of trips, and are deployed in coordination with frequent, reliable, and accessible mass transit.”
Signed amid a flurry of other environmental legislation on Thursday, including Gov. Newsom approving an additional $15 million for wildfire and climate change programs, SB 500 became the latest ZEV and electric car legislation in the state aimed at banning gas-powered cars in the coming decade. Within the past year, Newsom has also signed into law bills or executive orders that require all commercial trucks and vans to be ZEV by 2045 and all new passenger vehicles to be zero emission by 2035.
More zero emissions vehicle legislation approved in California
The passage of SB 500 was largely praised by environmental groups, as well as self-autonomous vehicle companies such as the Alphabet-backed Waymo and the GM-backed Cruise, the latter of whom directly supported the bill.
“We’re grateful for California’s leadership in ensuring this will be the industry standard,” said a representative for Cruise in a statement. “The AV industry is primed to lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in cities, and it’s why we’ve operated an all-electric, zero emissions fleet from the start.”
However, many bill opponents pointed out that a hard date could have some unforeseen consequences.
“It’s a shame this passed because there are still a lot of concerns by many over self-driving vehicles, like how they could possibly be hacked, many concerns over how much more electricity the program eats up, the true safety of them because of self-driving cars having a body count, and what the costs could be,” explained Rick Merritt, a lawyer who has been a part of several lawsuits against car companies, to the Globe on Friday. “Yes, SB 500 is narrow. Electric cars that are also self driving. But it creates another precedent to hurry it along even as it is still being tested. There are so many other concerns about the technology now that worrying about if they are going to be electric is the least of their problems.”
SB 500 is currently active, and barring future legislation, is set to make all self-autonomous cars electric by the end of the decade.
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