California Looks to Restrict Autonomous Trucks

Like other industries, the trucking industry has experienced numerous changes and developments. One of the key ones expected to change the industry’s future is the introduction of autonomous or self-driving trucks.

There are already semi-autonomous trucks that have an unmanned system but require a human operator to complete a mission with different human-robot interaction levels. However, fully autonomous trucks are intended to operate solely on the unmanned system without human interaction.

That is expected to bring numerous benefits to the industry, including solving the driver shortage. However, it has faced some challenges, including a new California law AB316.

The Law’s Requirements

Since 2015, California has banned autonomous truck operations on its roadways. However, the state allowed the testing of autonomous cars weighing at most 10,000 pounds without a driver.

Introduced by Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, an assembly member, the new law is intended to change the autonomous vehicle rule. It intends to ban the operation of autonomous trucks with a GVW of over 10,001 pounds on public roads for testing or goods transportation without a human operator. The human operator in the truck must have the proper license class for the type of vehicle they are operating.

The law will also require the autonomous truck manufacturer to present an application to the Department of Motor Vehicles before operating on public roads. The DMV only approves the application if it indicates the truck meets the following requirements.

  • Easily accessible technology to engage and disengage the autonomous features.
  • A visual indicator in the cabin showing when the operator engages the autonomous technology.
  • A system to alert the operator if the autonomous technology has an issue
  • Autonomous technology gives the operator control in various ways, including the accelerator pedal, steering wheel, brake pedal, etc.
  • The truck’s autonomous technology meets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for its model and year of manufacture.
  • A separate mechanism besides and separate from other mechanisms required by the law to capture and store data from the autonomous technology sensor.

Autonomous truck manufacturers must also file a report to the DMV if any of their trucks over 10,001 pounds operating with a testing permit are in a collision that results in bodily injury, property damage, or death.

Finally, the bill requires the DMV to send a report to the state by 1st January 2029, or five years after testing commences. The report should indicate the AV technology performance and its effects on public safety plus trucking sector employment.

The bill was first introduced in January 2023 and passed the state’s assembly in May 2023 by a 54-3 vote. It now awaits a committee review, a senate vote, and a signature from Governor Gavin Newsom to become an official law.

People advocating for the bill site road safety for other motorists and pedestrians plus truck drivers’ job safety. They say that the human operator will control the truck in emergencies, which will help reduce accidents.

Cecilia Aguiar-Curry says she is not against technological advancements and acknowledges the trucks would help solve driver shortage. Still, it would also replace many drivers, increasing the unemployment rate.

Effects On the Trucking Industry

Job displacement

This is a primary concern among people proposing the bill. With autonomous trucks expected to run for longer hours and more efficiently than drivers, companies will prefer to use the technology instead of human drivers.

If the bill is passed, drivers don’t need to worry about losing their jobs. Instead, it will make it better because it will reduce burnout.


Even with more efficiency, the technology can fail, causing many injuries or fatalities to other road users and damage to transit goods. Having a human operator on board will help mitigate that.

Also, with less fatigue on truck drivers, it will help reduce accidents due to driver errors.

Operational costs

Many people against the bill say it is an excellent way for trucking companies to reduce the operational costs of hiring and training drivers. Passing it into law will mean the costs for trucking companies will remain relatively high.





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