SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill targeting autonomous medium- and heavy-duty vehicles on Friday, calling it unnecessary as current law is sufficient.
Assembly Bill 316 — introduced by Assemblywomen Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Winters Democrat, and Laura Friedman, a Burbank Democrat — would have put guardrails on medium- and heavy-duty autonomous vehicles.
If passed, it would have prohibited a vehicle over 10,000 pounds from operating on public roads without a safety operator. It also would have required an evaluation report after testing the vehicles, a legislative hearing after that report was issued, and several reporting requirements on qualifying vehicles during their testing.
“Testing and deployment of light-duty autonomous vehicles in California has been fraught with malfunctions, including AVs blocking traffic by suddenly stopping in the middle of the road, driving through emergency response scenes, impeding emergency vehicles, and causing accidents,” the authors wrote in a bill analysis. “As California considers expanding autonomous technology to include trucks, buses and other large vehicles, AVs have greater potential to injure and kill Californians and displace large portions of the workforce.”
AB 316 had strong support from the Teamsters, which on Tuesday closed Capitol Mall in Sacramento for hours as members marched through downtown.
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, chief officer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, blasted Newsom’s veto Friday night on X, previously known as Twitter.
“Driverless trucks are dangerous and don’t belong on California’s roads or highways,” Fletcher said in a statement. “Removing drivers will cost an upwards of a quarter million working Californians their jobs and livelihoods. The veto of this bi-partisan, common sense bill is shocking.”
Aguiar-Curry in a statement said she was deeply disappointed in Newsom's veto.
"This bill actually affirmatively acknowledged that we will move forward with testing and deployment of autonomous heavy vehicles," she wrote. "Calling this proposal a ban is a disheartening mischaracterization of the intent and process outlined in the bill — allowing autonomous vehicle technology to progress but requiring a human safety operator while collaboration between the Legislative and the Executive branches proceeds."
The bill’s authors said autonomous vehicles have the potential to hurt and kill people, as well as displace a large part of the workforce. AB 316 would require a person to supervise an autonomous medium- and heavy-duty vehicle when on the road, enabling them to respond to emergencies.
Newsom called the bill unnecessary in a statement and said that existing law already provides sufficient authority to make a regulatory framework.
The California legislature gave the Department of Motor Vehicles power in 2012 to regulate testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles on public roads in the state. That department consults with others to determine what regulations are needed for the proper operation of those vehicles.
“DMV continuously monitors the testing and operations of autonomous vehicles on California roads and has the authority to suspend or revoke permits as necessary to protect the public's safety,” Newsom wrote.
The Department of Motor Vehicles this year held public workshops about future rules for light- and heavy-duty autonomous vehicles. That rulemaking will be transparent and public, with stakeholders getting the opportunity to help shape future regulations, Newsom wrote.
Those draft regulations are expected in several months.
Newsom also wrote that he’s long been concerned about technology’s impact on the future of work. He pointed to a 2019 Future of Work Task Force that included the Teamsters, which led to a report about new technology and its workforce impacts.
However, Newsom said his efforts haven’t stopped. He’s instructing the Labor and Workforce Development Agency to spearhead a stakeholder process next year to develop recommendations about mitigating the potential impacts 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,” Newsom wrote. “For these reasons, I cannot sign this bill.”
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