Autonomous truck companies Kodiak Robotics, Aurora Innovations and Gatik.AI, originally based in California, have moved to Texas to test their vehicles. This migration was primarily influenced by the more favorable regulatory environment in Texas compared to California, where regulations for early trials have not yet been established.
Regulating autonomous vehicles is the responsibility of each state, and about six states allow self-driving trucks. Texas has been particularly receptive to the technology and has formed a task force to work with operators to address challenges such as roadside inspections and law enforcement response in absentia of a driver.
In contrast, California lawmakers have opposed self-driving 18-wheelers. Reasons for this resistance include strong opposition from the Teamsters union and California’s negative experience with autonomous taxis in San Francisco, which led to several incidents and accidents. Even the state has required GM Cruise to reduce its autonomous fleet after one of its vehicles collided with a fire truck.
The California State Senate recently passed a bill that would require drivers to be present at all times in large trucks, even when they are driving autonomously. The bill now awaits approval from Gov. Gavin Newsom, but its chances of passage are uncertain due to growing opposition from various parties.
Concerns raised by unions relate to job security, while advocates argue that autonomous trucks can help address the current shortage of truck drivers, particularly on long-haul routes that keep them away from their families for extended periods. However, safety remains a primary concern. Critics argue that the software and sensors lack the knee-jerk reaction and ability to interpret a human driver’s body language, potentially compromising safety on the roads.
Testing autonomous trucks in Texas offers certain advantages compared to California. Texas’ highways are often empty, flat, and offer favorable weather conditions, while San Francisco’s congested streets present greater challenges. Current data suggests that autonomous truck trials in Texas have been relatively successful, with fewer than 20 incidents reported, all caused by drivers of other vehicles. In contrast, there were nearly half a million 18-wheeler collisions in 2021, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries.
However, in order to achieve widespread acceptance in the industry and ensure insurance coverage without significant hurdles, it is essential that autonomous systems perform flawlessly.