A group of autonomous vehicle developers is pressing California lawmakers to introduce a regulatory process that would eventually allow: autonomous trucks on the public road.
Thirty-five leaders in autonomous vehicles, including Waymo, Uber, Volvo and Aurora, signed a open letter Addressed California Governor Gavin Newsom last week, arguing that if California doesn’t allow the testing of autonomous trucks on public roads soon, it could lose its competitive advantage.
While California has allowed for testing of smaller, autonomous vehicles on public roads since 2019, semi-trucks and vans weighing more than 10,001 pounds remain banned. California is an important testing ground for autonomous vehicles for two reasons: Not only is the state a center of innovation for self-driving technology, but it’s also home to several highways connecting multiple major cross-country freight routes.
California’s plans to allow autonomous trucking are still unclear. “The DMV plans to work with the California Highway Patrol in developing regulations for autonomous vehicles weighing more than 10,001 pounds, but has not set a timetable for that regulatory process,” a spokesperson for the California DMV wrote in a statement. an e-mail.
Any state-level legislation around autonomous vehicles has stalled since 2012, meaning autonomous vehicle manufacturers — many of which are based in California — had to develop and test key technology such as self-driving semi-trucks in states with more compliant legislation.
One such state is Texas, where manufacturers of autonomous vehicles such as Aurora have been deploying autonomous trucks in commercial pilots on freight routes since early 2021. Currently, these autonomous trucks are overseen by a personal operator who ensures the vehicles run smoothly, but an Aurora spokesperson says this could change as early as next year, when the company plans to remove the vehicle operator completely and create a to launch “small fleet of self-driving trucks” on Texas public roads.
In recent years, the advent of autonomous trucking has been a controversial issue, with some critics worrying that autonomous trucks could displace dozens of truck driver jobs in the future; a recent research by researchers at the University of Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University found that autonomous trucks could replace 90% of American truck drivers in the next few years.
But industry leaders argue that driverless trucks will mitigate the supply chain crisis exacerbated by the pandemic and fill the gaps left by a growing demand for more and more truck drivers in the US. American Trucking Associationthere is currently a shortage of nearly 80,000 truck drivers that is expected to rise to a shortage of 160,000 drivers by 2030.
“There are tremendous opportunities for AV trucks to improve safe and efficient freight transportation in California,” said Emily Loper, policy director for the Bay Area Council, a nonprofit corporate advocacy group. “In the Bay Area, we are home to this innovation and we would like to see it tested and deployed here to realize its benefits.”