A group of autonomous vehicle developers and business leaders has called on the Governor of the US state of California, Gavin Newsom to revisit rules prohibiting large trucks with autonomous driving capabilities from public testing in the state, arguing California stands to reap both environmental and economic benefits of the emerging technology.
In a letter to Newsom, autonomous vehicle developers, logistics firms and others urged the governor and the California Department of Motor Vehicles to begin a rulemaking process to allow heavy-duty self-driving trucks to be tested and eventually deployed on public roads. Signees include Waymo, TuSimple, Gavit, Uber Freight, UPS, Embark, Volvo and others.
Since 2019, California has allowed light-duty autonomous trucks and other vehicles to be tested and used for commercial purposes on state roads. More recently, California regulators granted Cruise, a company controlled by automaker General Motors, approval to launch driverless ride-hailing services in San Francisco without a safety driver. Cruise and autonomous vehicle developer Waymo have both been shuttling passengers around the city in autonomous vehicles for some time, but with a back-up human driver present to take control if something goes wrong.
But under current laws, self-driving vehicles in the state must be under 10,000 pounds, meaning larger trucks with autonomous driving capabilities are unable to be piloted. And as the technology evolves and gets better, states like Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Nevada are already in the process of putting self-driving semi trucks on the road.
Industry leaders said this puts California behind the curve and urged state leaders to “urgently develop a safe, thoughtful regulatory framework to permit autonomous trucks in the state.”
“Without regulations to permit this technology, California is at risk of losing our competitive edge. 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,” the letter states.
“We are now asking your Administration to initiate a thoughtful rulemaking process that gives autonomous trucks a chance to work for California and Californians—making our state the global hub for technology that will define the future of transportation.”
The letter cites a Silicon Valley Leadership Group study that found the deployment of autonomous trucks in California could add $6.5 billion in economic activity to the state, make its supply chain more efficient and spur wage gains and job growth.
The idea is autonomous trucks could remedy a host of problems the trucking industry is currently facing: driver shortages, increasing vehicle prices, fuel price volatility, performance limitations and safety concerns.
But still, while the technology is advancing, there are still many hurdles to developing a completely safe and viable autonomous freight industry.