California May Allow Autonomous Semi-Trucks on the Road
Despite California being home to many corporations involved in developing autonomous vehicles, heavy-duty trucks are still not allowed to be tested or deployed in the state. While California has allowed public autonomous commercial truck testing since 2019, current state law forbids testing or deployment of autonomous vehicles that weigh over 10,000 pounds, prohibiting self-driving semi-trucks and big rigs.
History of Autonomous Vehicles Testings in California
In 2014, California began testing light-duty autonomous vehicles with a driver behind the wheel. In 2018, driverless testing and deployment were approved. In 2019, officials expanded the state’s regulations to allow light autonomous delivery vehicles like mid-sized pickup trucks, cargo vans, and passenger cars with a California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) permit.
The Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association (AVIA) said it has been over a decade since legislation enabling self-driving was passed. Since then, there has been no change in autonomous trucking regulations. The group said they want to ensure Californians see the safety benefits and supply chain of autonomous vehicle trucks.
Autonomous Trucking Industry Push for Public Process
For years, the autonomous vehicle industry has been trying to persuade state legislators to reconsider its regulation. In a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom last year, numerous executives from autonomous vehicle and trucking companies like TuSimple, Waymo, UPS, and Uber Freight urged California lawmakers to begin a public process to resolve the issue and make California the global hub for the future of transportation. They said California risks losing its competitive edge if the deployment of autonomous trucks is not permitted.
They also said the technology can give California’s economy a boost. A recent Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation study found that autonomous trucking technology could bring in $6.5 billion annually in economic activity for the state.
DMV Held Autonomous Vehicle Regulations Workshop
The current policy has California sitting on the sidelines as autonomous tech companies progressively clear safety hurdles and establish partnerships for commercial growth. However, this may change. After years of requests from the autonomous vehicle industry, officials are reconsidering the state’s regulations prohibiting self-driving semi-trucks on its roadways.
At the end of 2022, the California DMV announced an autonomous vehicle regulations workshop, inviting everyone to provide ideas about modifying the state’s policy around large autonomous vehicles. The workshop was held at the California State University Harper Alumni Center on January 27, 2023.
Proposed Legislation for Testing of Autonomous Trucks
If California officials give the green light to test heavy-duty autonomous vehicles, state legislators will push to limit potential fallout. Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry recently filed legislation requiring trained safety drivers behind the wheel. They compared the requirement to airplanes, which pretty much run themselves but always have a pilot in the cockpit.
Lawmakers said the goal of the proposed legislation is a delicate balance between keeping California roads safe for those who travel on them daily and preserving the livelihoods of truckers across the state.
The YouTube video below provides a glimpse of the future of driverless trucks in the United States.
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