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California Gov. Newsom Reconsiders Self-Driving Semi Prohibition

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is reconsidering a prohibition on autonomous trucks in the state following years of pleading from the industry and rapid advancements in the space.

(TNS) — Following years of pleadings from the autonomous vehicle industry, California officials are revisiting a statewide policy that prohibits self-driving semi-trucks and big rigs on its roads.

Should California regulators decide to open the floodgates, two state legislators are pushing to limit any potential fallout. Asm. Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D- Winters, on Thursday filed new legislation requiring a trained individual behind the wheel in any autonomous vehicle that weighs more than 10,001 pounds. Asm. Tom Lackey, R- Palmdale, and Asm. Ash Kalra, D- San Jose, co-authored the bill.

The proposal comes as the California Department of Motor Vehicles hosts a public workshop Friday to discuss modifying regulations around large autonomous vehicles.

California began allowing the testing of certain light-duty autonomous vehicles with a safety driver behind the wheel in 2014, followed by a green light in 2018 for driverless testing and deployment. In 2019, officials expanded state regulations to permit light-duty autonomous delivery vehicles such as passenger cars, mid-sized pickup trucks and cargo vans with an approved permit from the DMV.

Current state law prohibits testing or deployment of autonomous vehicles that weigh more than 10,001 pounds, outlawing large trucks and big rigs with autonomous capabilities.

Under the proposed legislation, testing of autonomous trucks could be permitted but only with a driver behind the wheel.

The purpose of the bill, the lawmakers say, is two-pronged: to keep California roadways safe for the millions who travel them every day and to protect the livelihoods of truck drivers across the state.

“It’s a fine balance between keeping our quality workforce and ensuring safety,” Aguiar-Curry said in an interview.

Lackey, a retired California Highway Patrol sergeant, compared the requirement of having someone in the vehicle to airplanes, which “pretty much run themselves” but always have a pilot or two in the cockpit, he said.

“Everybody wants progress but we just have to be smart and realistic and measured,” Lackey said. “Loss of life is not recoverable, and it’s important we understand the dangers if we misstep.”


The autonomous trucking industry has been working for years to convince state leaders to reconsider its policy.

In a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom last summer, dozens of executives from trucking and autonomous vehicle companies like Waymo, TuSimple, Uber Freight and UPS urged Newsom and the DMV to begin a public process to unravel the rule and make California the “global hub for the technology that will define the future of transportation.”

They also cited a recent study from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation that found that autonomous trucking technology could add $6.5 billion in annual economic activity for the state.

“Without regulations to permit this technology, California is at risk of losing our competitive edge,” the letter read. “As the industry deploys new pilot programs, builds critical infrastructure, and creates the 21st-century jobs California’s businesses need to grow, investment is limited to other states that allow deployment of autonomous trucks.”

A handful of states, including Arkansas, Nevada and Texas, have all granted approval for driverless semis. But the consideration in California comes amid increased scrutiny over the safety of self-driving vehicles.

Tesla faces a wave of lawsuits arguing that it downplayed the dangers of its self-driving software. One of the company’s senior engineers testified in court earlier this month that it staged a video to demonstrate capabilities, such as stopping at a red light and accelerating at a green light, that the system could not do.

The California Labor Federation and International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents truck drivers across the state, are working with legislators to try and ensure limitations around autonomous trucks are put in place.

Jason Rabinowitz, president of Teamsters Joint Council 7, said it “quickly became an urgent matter” when the DMV announced its public hearings.

“It’s alarming,” he said. “We believe a decision of this magnitude should be made by the legislature and with a really close study of the potential impacts of these decisions.”

©2023 The Sacramento Bee, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.