back to article California rolls closer to requiring drivers in driverless trucks

The California State Assembly on Wednesday approved a law bill that will prevent autonomous trucks from operating on the US state's roads without a driver on board. The Assembly voted 54-3 for Assembly Bill 316, which now must be approved by the California State Senate and be signed by Governor Gavin Newsom (D) to become law …

  1. PRR Bronze badge

    > "My truck weighs well over 10,000 pounds," added Reyes.

    Teamsters drive all sizes of trucks, but often FAR over 10,000 pounds. California nominally limits to 80,000 pounds (recently raised to 88k with permit to off-load ports faster). Idaho, Oregon and Washington permit gross vehicle weights up to 105,500 pounds, Arizona, Nevada and Utah 129,000 pounds. Profits push truckers to load as close to that as possible.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "Profits push truckers to load as close to that as possible."

      I was reading a report that showed trucks "cubing out" more often than hitting weight limits.

      It's still a problem to have more trucks on the road weighing even more since the roads aren't designed or constructed to take that much on a regular basis.

      A Tesla failing to notice flashing red lights on an emergency vehicle is one thing, but a HGV weighing many tons is another. That whole 1/2 MV^2 thing.

    2. nautica Silver badge

      What IS the limit?

      I am under the impression we're talking about cargo trucks here, and not specialty rigs.

      I have been led to believe that the largest cargo truck allowed is the federally-mandated Class-8 tractor-trailer, at 80 000 (or 82 000) pounds, depending on what, and where, you read.

      What is the correct value for the largest commercial-cargo-carrying truck?

      1. Snake Silver badge

        Re: What IS the limit?

        80,000, at least it was when I was still driving. Any heavier and you are talking doubles, triples or special permits.

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: What IS the limit?

        "I have been led to believe that the largest cargo truck allowed is the federally-mandated Class-8 tractor-trailer, at 80 000 (or 82 000) pounds,

        There's Federal limits, but states can enact higher limits for intra-state movements. It's the same as some states allowing triples and others allowing no more than two trailers.

  2. DS999 Silver badge

    Life saving?

    The only life today's autonomous technology would save is the life of the person in the truck if they aren't required to have anyone. The technology is nowhere near ready to have 80,000 pounds, or even 10,000 pounds, barreling down the highway without human supervision.

    Long haul trucking is probably one of the first places that autonomous driving can have an impact since the routes can be pre-planned, are almost all expressway miles, and trucking companies pushing drivers to exceed their legal hours and drive when overly tired is rampant in the industry. But you can't just deploy version 1.0 of the technology on the road without anyone watching, and engage in a game of finger pointing between your insurance company, the company that built the truck, and the company you leased the truck from every time the truck does something unexpected and kills a family of five in a minivan.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Life saving?

      "Long haul trucking is probably one of the first places that autonomous driving can have an impact since the routes can be pre-planned,"

      Even in the US there are good ways to move stuff long distances called trains. With more work done to separate trains and cars from intersecting, the more that trains can be automated and done so much more safely. It would also then be cost effective to run more trains with shorter builds to keep things moving rather than long trains with union drivers that cost loads of money to put up with.

      Automated trucks don't take into account issues with paperwork, line ups at distribution warehouses/ports and all of the vagaries of road conditions and load security. There are already videos of pirates that will risk breaking into a moving truck and unloading the trailer. An automated truck would be even easier since it would need to be more cautious and the pirates could get it to stop so it's easier to pilfer the load. While it might not be possible to completely empty a trailer like is done with train cars in places like California, if it's a load of iPhones, a couple of cases can be worth it.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Life saving?

        Despite these things you call "trains", a lot more goods are moved in the US via long haul trucking than is the case anywhere in Europe. That is not likely to change in our lifetimes, so finding a way to make long haul trucking safer or more efficient will always be useful since the US isn't going to suddenly start adding a bunch of additional rail capacity.

      2. MrDamage Silver badge

        Re: Life saving?

        While I agree with you on the trans idea, it doesn't help when American trains don't know how to stay on their tracks and want to free roam.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Life saving?

          India seems to have a bigger problem with this, and it happens with passenger trains which is rarely the case in the US. Though a derailed train carrying toxic cargo may not kill people but it creates a lot of problems nonetheless.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Life saving?

            "Though a derailed train carrying toxic cargo may not kill people but it creates a lot of problems nonetheless."

            Those dangerous cargoes are still going to be transported. While it's bad when a train derails and spills nasty stuff, a HGV doing it across a motorway doesn't mean the impact isn't as great even if the amount of toxic material is less. Train wrecks tend to be rather spectacular in the same way as passenger jet crashes but both are rare when normalized by the ton/mile or passenger/mile. For every train wreck with a toxic spill, there are millions of miles of other toxic material that was transported without incident.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Life saving?

        "vagaries of road conditions and load security."

        Don't know about the US, but here in the UK and across the EU, the driver is 100% responsible for their load, ie that it is properly loaded and secured. And as any driver will tell you, it's not unusual to get a few miles down the road and have to pull over and check/tighten straps etc because no matter how well you secure the load while stationary, once you start moving, vibration and cornering will cause it to shift slightly, just enough to need all those straps checking and tightening again. Any issues such as an unbalanced or shifted load leading to it being dangerous or worse, causing an accident is entirely down to the human driver. Who is going to be legally responsible for the initial loading and subsequent en route checking if there's no one on board to carry that task out?

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Life saving?

          "it's not unusual to get a few miles down the road and have to pull over and check/tighten straps"

          Yep, that initial bit of bouncing around takes the stretch out of the straps and the straps also find the shortest patch between points. When I worked on rocket landers, we would stop at a point to check straps when we transported the rocket from the shop to the test area. That was instituted before I got there for the reason that one time all but one tie down was dangling and being dragged behind the trailer. One bad bounce and a whole bunch of money would have been lying on the ground. We also had a follow vehicle just to keep an eye on things. The small lander was often moved with fuel on board (IPA) since it was easier to fill up in the shop and we'd rarely refill in the field.

  3. NeilPost Silver badge

    Bonehead AI

    I look forward to an irregular edition of Bonehead Truckers featuring dumb Autonomous Trucks.

    Though at least you won’t get a dumb-ass from Swifty-Swift blocking the fuel island whilst getting a cheeseburger and a sody-water !!

    1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      Re: Bonehead AI

      No, but you will have driverless trucks sitting at the self-serve pumps, waiting to be refueled by someone who will never show.

  4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Not the right solution

    Having a "driver" simply present on board while the truck's computer does the actual driving won't fix the problem. Chances are they'll be too busy playing with their phone or watching a movie to be able to react fast enough to any errors made by the automation.

    1. Ian Mason

      Re: Not the right solution

      Being distracted by phones and whatever already happens with non-autonomous trucks. A high proportion of truck "accidents" are down to drivers playing with phones and the like.

      The risks with a "minder" of an autonomous truck and a the driver of a non-autonomous truck are probably similar in terms of driver conscientiousness and probably slightly tipped in the favour of the "minder" being likely to be less fatigued than a driver.

  5. nautica Silver badge

    What's wrong with this picture?

    Really, really strange...

    Railroads, one of the most highly-automated and sensor-controlled modes of moving huge amounts of goods (and, by the way, very-highly monitored, remotely), have not--even in passing--mentioned ANYTHING about even considering the use of autonomous locomotives. And trains roll on tracks, which they are constrained to follow (no veering off into the other lane(s), plowing into stopped emergency vehicles, pesky little things like those...).

    Really, really strange...

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: What's wrong with this picture?

      "have not--even in passing--mentioned ANYTHING about even considering the use of autonomous locomotives."

      There's an automated train in Western Australia that hauls Iron ore. There's no point in having a driver onboard as the train is so heavy that there's no way it could stop if somebody was stranded at a level crossing.

      Working on eliminating level crossings would go a long way towards getting more trains automated. More shorter trains that can be dispatched more frequently would also make better use of tracks since by not having a crew on the train for many movements would mean less crew costs and stopping trains on a section due to issues won't mean massive amounts of money to crews who can't be replaced right away.

      I just see far too many problems cropping up with autonomous trucks sharing the road with passenger vehicles.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        The impressive thing is that when it needs to be driven by a human that human is in Perth over a 1000km away. And it looks like we are going to get something similar here in Queensland. Maybe I could apply to be a driver on a work from home basis!

  6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Meanwhile, here in the UK...

    ...we have a car hire firm just started up after a claimed year of testing, which will be using remotely driven vehicle to deliver and collect hire cars to/from customers. Not self driven, not autonomous, but fully driven by a remote operator. And for at least the next 18 months, with a "safety driver" on board too. When questioned about the onboard safety driver in a radio interview, the company spokesdroid said they were still developing the safety system. WTF? They WHY THE FUCK are you launching the service if the SAFETY SYSTEMS are not ready yet? STAY OF THE FUCKING ROADS until it IS ready!!!

    Remote driver car rental service launches in Milton Keynes

  7. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

    It's rare

    when I will agree with a Democrat, and even more rare when I will agree with a union puke, but in this they are 100 percent correct. Fully automomous vehicles will never work in our lifetimes. The best we can ever hope to see is network controlled vehicles on specified roadways with drivers in control in local settings. Think Demolition Man here. We'll drive ourselves to main artery roadways, tell the car to interface and tell the system our destination, then the network will route us to the most efficient path to where we're going. The network will then hand the car back to you for local driving or, barring a response from you, will either pull your car to the side of the road and stop or will drive you to the nearest hospital. But under no circumstances do I want to be on the highway with large driverless trucks. Electronics DO occasionally fail and I don't want to be driving in front of one when it does.

    Besides, it'll take about 5 minutes for the local criminal organizations to figure out how to hijack driverless trucks. Load after load will disappear.

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