A bill that would have required driverless trucks to have a driver in the vehicle and effectively ban all self-driving trucks operating alone in California, was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom over the weekend, leading to a predictable polarizing reaction across the state, and accusations that Newsom is showing his true colors.
Assembly Bill 316, authored by Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguilar-Curry (D-Winters) would have prohibited 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.
For months, Newsom advisors, the AV vehicle industry, and silicon valley tech supporters were at odds with labor unions, the majority of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and vehicle safety groups. Supporters of AB 316 challenged the overall safety of having driverless trucks on the road as well as how the bill could potentially erase tens of thousands of jobs from the state. Detractors, meanwhile, said that the bill would chase out all AV companies in California, would hurt the state economically, and would further harm California’s already shaky tech industry.
“Lawmakers aren’t against technology, but we see the bill as a safer way for companies to test self-driving trucks,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) earlier this month. “We want balance because we believe in people, and we believe in public safety. When surprises happen, physics is not your friend.”
Following passage of the bill earlier this month, AB 316 went to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk. With both sides strongly influencing him, it remained unknown what he would do about the bill. However, late on Friday, he vetoed the bill, explaining in a veto message that AB 316 is “unnecessary” and is “not needed at this time”.
“I am returning Assembly Bill 316 without my signature,” Newsom said this weekend. “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.”
“Autonomous vehicle technology is evolving and the DMV remains committed to keeping our rules up to date to reflect its continued development in California. DMV held public workshops with interested stakeholders earlier this year to inform the development of future rulemakings for both light-duty and heavy duty autonomous vehicles. This rulemaking will 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.”
“In addition to safety, my Administration has long been concerned with the impact of technology on the future of work – so much so that in 2019 we convened, with participation from a variety of organized labor leaders including the Teamsters, UFCW, and SEIU, a robust Future of Work Task Force. That effort led to the publication of a report that guides our work on issues of emerging technology and its impacts on California’s workforce.”
“But our efforts don’t end there. I am committed to incentivizing career pathways and training for the necessary workforce specifically associated with this technology. As such, 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.”
“Considering the longstanding commitment of my Administration to addressing the present and future challenges for work and workers in California, and the existing regulatory framework that presently and sufficiently governs this particular technology, this bill is not needed at this time. For these reasons, I cannot sign this bill.”
Newsom’s AB 316 veto
AV companies and Silicon Valley groups praised the decision, with many sending out statements over the weekend.
“We commend Governor Newsom for vetoing AB 316. As a result, California’s safety experts can continue to evaluate autonomous vehicle technology and consider appropriate regulatory action. We look forward to continuing to work with the California DMV, California Highway Patrol, Labor and Workforce Development Agency and other state regulators that are evaluating the future of autonomous trucking technology in the state,” said Jeff Farrah, executive director for the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association.
Silicon Valley Leadership Group Vice President Peter Leroe-Munoz added that “AB 316 makes innovation – and the jobs it supports – more difficult to sustain. The current absence of testing and deployment rules for AV trucks in California has already pushed companies to innovate and create jobs in other states that are leading the way on ground-breaking technologies. Texas, Arizona and others have positioned themselves to become the new rivals to California’s tech leadership. California small businesses, entrepreneurs and nonprofits already face costly delivery backlogs and supply chain delays. This bill exacerbates these challenges and ignores the benefits that would come from the more efficient movement of agricultural, retail and manufacturing goods throughout the Golden State.”
Conversely, many also immediately spoke out against Newsom’s decision, saying that he is in the pocket of Silicon Valley, is ignoring what most Californians want, has just put millions of people in the state in danger, and has effectively irreversibly hurt his relationship with labor unions going forward.
“He is sending a message to California and every state in this country that technology should overrule middle-class jobs,” said Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien. “Gov. Newsom, I got a message for you: you want to sign this bill and take on 1.2 million Teamsters in this country? Put your helmet on and buckle in your chinstrap.”
Political and labor experts also noted on Monday to the Globe that Newsom’s political future has now taken a “big hit” because of him choosing to veto the bill.
“Most people are wondering what the hell he is thinking,” said labor consultant Jeanne Rogers to the Globe. “He is tied very closely to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco crowd, and many have speculated that that is a big reason. He also likely listened to his advisors, who kept saying how much it would cost the state if he signed the bill. Basically money and the tech industry.”
“But labor is now furious at him, and you have to remember that labor never forgets. If he runs for president in, say 2028, this is going to come up. Also, he tried to justify the safety angle in his veto message, but whoever helped him draft it forgot to go over the impact of it. If one AV truck kills one person in the coming years, Newsom is going to have blood on his hands. A driver on board is just another safety feature when technology fails and people are needed to drive, but Newsom just ignored that. He also just cost so many Californians their jobs.”
“Something seems off on this one. This isn’t a usual veto. He had to ignore both parties, unions, and car safety groups. If anything, he is showing his true colors to the people that had backed him until now.”
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