Self-driving cars, also called autonomous vehicles, have become a hot topic in recent years. They are no longer just a futuristic idea but are actually being developed, especially throughout California.
The technology that allows these vehicles to drive themselves is improving quickly, and many companies are trying to enter the industry with new products. While significant progress has been made with these vehicles, one area that has received interest is commercial vehicles. However, the possibility of transporting goods and other products in huge, self-driving trucks has been met with caution by lawmakers in California. In fact, the prospect of self-driving commercial vehicles has even led to legislation, most notably California Assembly Bill 316.
Passed on April 24, 2023, Assembly Bill 316 prohibits the use of an autonomous vehicle on public roads that:
- Exceeds 10,000 pounds for testing purposes
- Transporting goods or passengers
- Doesn’t have a human safety operator
Put a different way, AB 316 outlaws the use of a self-driving commercial vehicle, like a semi-truck, without a driver in the vehicle to take over. When you consider the usual pitfalls of sharing the road with commercial trucks and add to that the potential dangers associated with a self-driving vehicle, it’s easy to see why lawmakers pushed for this legislation.
Given that there has been a significant increase in self-driving vehicles on California roads in recent years, it’s important to remember that they are still part of the nation’s transportation industry, and are thus regulated by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). To that end, the DOT has issued a comprehensive plan for automated vehicles in which it outlines three goals:
- Collaboration – The USDOT will make sure that everyone involved, including the public, has access to clear and trustworthy information about what self-driving cars can and cannot do.
- Modernization – The USDOT will update the regulations to get rid of unnecessary obstacles that could stop new and exciting vehicle designs, features, and ways of operating from happening. They will also create safety-focused guidelines and tools to make sure self-driving cars are safe.
- Preparation – The USDOT will work with others to do the necessary research and tests to safely evaluate and integrate self-driving cars. At the same time, they will also work on making transportation safer, more efficient, and easier for everyone to use.
As a product, self-driving vehicles have a number of significant advantages, especially for companies that have fleets of vehicles and employees. That said, there are a number of disadvantages that must be taken into account. In looking at these benefits and drawbacks, it shows the division between using the technology and maintaining an already profitable business model for many of these companies. Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of self-driving vehicles:
- Increased safety – Self-driving vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce accidents caused by human error, which is the leading cause of crashes. Advanced sensors, artificial intelligence, and real-time data analysis can help prevent collisions and improve road safety.
- Improved efficiency – Self-driving vehicles can optimize traffic flow, reduce congestion, and minimize fuel consumption by employing intelligent routing and coordinated driving techniques. This can lead to smoother traffic patterns, shorter travel times, and reduced emissions.
- Enhanced accessibility – Self-driving vehicles have the potential to provide mobility options to those who are unable to drive, such as the elderly or people with disabilities. They can improve access to transportation and help individuals maintain independence.
- Increased productiviity – With self-driving vehicles, passengers can use travel time more efficiently for work, leisure, or relaxation. The technology can also enable convenient features like remote summoning and parking, allowing vehicles to pick up passengers or park themselves without driver intervention.
- Reduction of costs – Shared self-driving vehicle services could offer cost-effective transportation alternatives, potentially reducing the need for personal car ownership, parking expenses, and insurance costs.
- Technological limitations and reliability – Self-driving technology is still evolving, and there are challenges to overcome. Systems may encounter difficulties in complex driving situations, adverse weather conditions, or uncommon road scenarios. Reliability and safety concerns must be thoroughly addressed before widespread adoption.
- Technological limitations and reliability issues – Self-driving technology is still developing and faces challenges. It may struggle in complex driving situations, bad weather, or unusual road conditions. Ensuring the technology is reliable and safe is crucial before it becomes widely used.
- Job losses – Self-driving vehicles could lead to job losses in industries that rely heavily on human drivers, like trucking or ride-hailing. This could have economic consequences for those sectors.
- Legal and regulatory complexities – There are still many legal and regulatory issues to address for self-driving vehicles. Determining who is responsible in accidents, setting safety standards, and considering ethical and legal aspects pose complex challenges.
- Privacy and data security concerns – Self-driving vehicles collect a lot of data about passengers, their behaviors, and travel patterns. It’s important to protect this data to ensure privacy and prevent unauthorized access or misuse.
- Public acceptance – It may take time to gain widespread acceptance and trust in self-driving technology. Concerns about safety, reliability, loss of control, and ethical implications could affect how the public views and adopts self-driving vehicles.
For both drivers and the companies they work for, the number one priority should always be safety. While this usually includes actions and states behind the wheel, self-driving vehicles remove that from the equation. However, the advent and still-developing nature of the technology brings an added element of danger. And while AB 316 currently prohibits using the technology in a commercial truck format, things can change as the technology continues to develop.
Fleet Drug Testing is here to help you stay compliant with FMCSA and DOT regulations, as well as stay up to date on other safety requirements and regulations. Our team offers comprehensive services to meet your fleet’s needs. Whether you need assistance with compliance or want to ensure your business runs smoothly, contact us today get started.