MnDOT Eyes Autonomous Vehicles to Close Transportation Gaps, Improve Safety

By Catharine Richert and Megan Burks, MPRNEWS

When you hear “autonomous vehicles,” you might think of big tech and Tesla. But the state thinks opportunity.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Connected and Automated Vehicles Director, Tara Olds, says she sees the technology as a chance to fix some persistent transportation problems in the state. Olds has helped oversee three pilot projects — in Rochester, Minn., White Bear Lake, Minn. and now Grand Rapids, Minn. — to explore how autonomous vehicles can improve road safety and access to transportation.

The active Grand Rapids project, goMARTI, is designed to give people with disabilities more options and independence by running in the evening and night. Existing services only run during the day.

Olds joined All Things Considered Thursday to share what she’s learning and her vision for autonomous vehicles in the state.

I want to start out with this title of yours: Connected and Automated Vehicles Director. Talk to me a little bit more about the ‘connected‘ part of your title. What does that refer to?

Connected is really looking at how all areas of transportation can connect to things. How can cars connect to one another? How can other vehicles connect to people walking on the street? How might they be able to use information from our roadway signs, or be able to understand what our signal is saying? Is it a green light, or is it a red light? All of these things allow for vehicles to have a better understanding of [their] surrounding, and also really enhances safety.

You have a project in Grand Rapids that’s meant to address another problem, which is access to transportation. Tell us more about that project. 

In this community in particular, a number of folks that use mobility devices such as wheelchairs, don’t have the same ability to get around their community due to limited transportation options. And so we were able to use this as a supplement, by operating at different hours than the other services that were offered. So it’s now allowing folks to move around their community in the evening and in the nighttime, allowing them to be more connected to people and have a little bit more autonomy. But I will note that the technology doesn’t always work 100 percent of the time, and that’s why we continue to test it.

So I’m based in Rochester and we had an autonomous vehicle in our city’s downtown for about a year. People were a bit confused about it. They didn’t totally know what it was for, or whether it was safe. So how much public education goes into launching these types of programs?

So that was our project that we called the Med City Mover. That was our first public research demonstration project, so we learned a lot, both from a technology side but also how we can engage with communities.

We had another project that recently just ended in White Bear Lake called Bear Tracks, and it was another shuttle. [Because of what we learned in Rochester, we had] a little bit more community involvement to help educate folks in the area and help us understand where they see opportunities best fit for this.

Both the Med City Mover and Bear Tracks are known as low speed autonomous vehicles. So they operate at, I’d say, a maximum speed of around 12 miles per hour. But sometimes it was operating as low as 3 to 7 miles per hour, depending on what the environment was. It also came to a number of stops in the roadway due to things like leaves [in the roadway], different weather conditions, or even steam rising from manholes, where the sensors were detecting that as a potential obstacle. And so these were designed to be incredibly safe and, with that being said, they kind of create a disruption.

We’ve heard a lot of folks who didn’t like how slow they were. We understand that and recognize that perhaps a downtown urban environment might not be the right place for these vehicles. It might be something more on like a dedicated pathway, where these don’t have the same interruption.

What role do you see Minnesota playing as these technologies develop? 

I think one of the biggest opportunities we have is to really look at how winter weather plays a role in this. So much of the testing, so much of the companies [developing autonomous vehicles] are in warm weather states. But Minnesota, along with a number of other Midwest states, has a lot of snow and a lot of cold weather. And quite frankly, we really are encouraging those partners to come and test here in our state, because we believe that if they’re creating transportation solutions that will work here in the summer months, we’d like to see them work all times of the year.

Additionally, we’d like to see how technology can be used in all parts of the state, not just our urban downtown environments, by looking at how they can be used on gravel roadways.

What responsibility do state and other public agencies have in helping to develop these technologies that companies stand to profit from? 

The reason that I like to be in this field and really play a role at the state in it is to ensure that the changes that we create for our transportation system really are addressing the needs of our people, not just creating new shiny technologies.

Zoox Headcount Grows as Amazon’s Self-Driving Unit Expands Testing in Vegas

By Abhirup Roy and Akash Sriram, Reuters Inc’s (AMZN.O) self-driving vehicle unit Zoox has grown its headcount by about 16% at a time when access to capital is tight and other large companies have exited the autonomous driving sector.

Amazon’s shares were 1.2% higher at $128.84 in early afternoon trading.

Based in California, Zoox, has ramped up its efforts to test its driverless robotaxi on public roads of Las Vegas since June 16, where the autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals has been driving itself around with the company’s employees.

Zoox’s headcount has grown to about 2,200, up from 1,900 at the beginning of the year, Chief Technology Officer Jesse Levinson told Reuters.

Levinson said that Zoox autonomous vehicle will not be driving on the Vegas strip yet but is being tested for handling traffic lights, intersections and drive at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.

It follows approval from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles that authorizes Zoox to test drive its robotaxis on public roads in the state.

The company also intends to invest in its Vegas facilities, adding warehouse spaces to house its testing and robotaxi fleets.

“We are preparing for commercial launch and so it is important to beef up,” Levinson said, adding that the company expects to maintain a similar growth rate in headcount throughout the year.

This comes at a time when the sector has been struggling with the development of fully autonomous vehicles due to constrained access to funding and an uncertain economy.

Ford Motor Co (F.N) and Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) last fall announced that they would shut down their Argo AI self-driving unit and focus on driver-assistance technology that provided more immediate returns.

Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O) self-driving technology project Waymo laid off 137 employees in a second round of job cuts this year.

The Truckers of Tomorrow

By Mindy Long, Transport Topics

In the years ahead, the essential task of hauling the nation’s freight and keeping the economy rolling will increas­ingly shift to a new generation of professional truck drivers.

Attracting workers to step into those roles remains a long-standing challenge for trucking companies, but somehow fleets will need to bring in younger drivers to keep pace with projected freight growth and offset the wave of retirements headed their way as their existing workforce ages.

To accomplish this, fleet operators must find ways to recruit from a broader labor pool and meet the lifestyle preferences and work expectations of future drivers.

Several industry leaders said younger workers expect more from a driving career, including flexible schedules, a clear career path and a sense of belonging.

“Ultimately, it’s going to come down to culture, work-life balance and stability,” said Pat Udovich, chief human resources officer at less-than-truckload carrier A. Duie Pyle. “Culture has become king — rightfully so — and we do not see that changing as the next generation comes onboard.”

On a list of drivers’ priorities, work-life balance has always been a close second to pay, but the younger generation is pushing that level of importance even higher.

“A growing percentage of candidates are even opting for lower-paying jobs with a larger amount of home time or flexibility in taking home time,” said Chris Polenz, vice president of recruiting at truckload carrier Werner Enterprises.

Fleets are adjusting their operations and implementing technology to help provide that flexibility.

Werner, for one, uses its mobile app to match drivers with their needs.

“We have a ‘career opportunities’ tab on our Driver Werner Pro App allowing drivers to search for existing accounts that meet their work-life balance,” Polenz said. “From there, they can select to be added to those wait lists or talk to a career center specialist at any time to discuss their requests.”

Werner, based in Omaha, Neb., ranks No. 17 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

Dee Dee Cox, vice president of human resources at Old Dominion Freight Line, said the LTL carrier has been getting more creative in planning its drivers’ schedules.

That requires open and honest communication regarding the company’s and employees’ needs, starting during the interview process, she said. “What is the driver looking for in the long term? Is it OK if the driver is off on Tuesday and Wednesday? Do those days actually work better for home life, or are they looking for a Saturday-Sunday reset?”

A. Duie Pyle offers LTL and dedicated driving jobs that help prospective candidates align with their schedules outside of work, Udovich said.

Getting home daily is a huge sell to many who want to be present for events outside of work, whether it’s their kid’s baseball game or high school graduation, he added.

A. Duie Pyle, based in West Chester, Pa., ranks No. 66 on the for-hire TT100 list.

Despite the push for more home time and flexibility, some young drivers don’t mind being out on the road for longer stretches.

Andy Turi, a 23-year-old driver who joined Brenny Transportation about a year ago, prefers to be on the road. Turi earned his commercial driver license at 18 and worked in regional operations until turning 21.

“Becoming an OTR driver became more enticing because I could live in my truck and get paid,” Turi said. “I have saved tens of thousands of dollars.”

While it was the pay that ­initially attracted him to the industry, his appreciation for trucking has expanded beyond that.

“I’m not doing it for the money anymore,” Turi said. “I like being by myself and getting paid to go places I haven’t been before.”

Garner Trucking, based in Findlay, Ohio, is primarily an over-the-road carrier whose drivers typically spend four to five days overnight in their trucks.

CEO Sherri Garner Brumbaugh said the company sometimes loses drivers to home-daily opportunities, but adjusting freight transportation networks, when possible, can boost retention.

“Relaying, slip seating OTR operations and drop-hook keep a driver moving and not sitting. Creativity many times brings efficiencies to your operation as well,” said Brumbaugh, who is a past chair of American Trucking Associations. “At Garner, we have multiple driving schedules an individual can choose from. Unlike my father’s generation that lived to work, this generation and mine is ‘work to live.’ ”

Pay remains a high priority for drivers, but Brumbaugh has found that experiences also matter to younger employees.

“The trucking industry should be able to provide both — good pay and the experience to see the country,” she said. “Marketing those stories is key.”

Attracting Younger Drivers

The average age of a new entrant into the trucking industry continues to hover between 35 and 38 years old, but younger people oftentimes are in a better position to take on longhaul jobs, said Jeremy Reymer, CEO of DriverReach, a provider of driver recruiting software.

“The best time for a worker’s willingness to be away from home for extended periods of time is when they’re young and have little to no responsibilities or other obligations that would otherwise preclude them from such a working dynamic,” Reymer said.

Brenny Transportation, which is based in St. Joseph, Minn., has focused on recruiting ­younger drivers and got involved with a young-driver training program through the Minnesota Trucking Association.

“We can bring them on locally at 18 years old until they’re of the age to leave the state,” said company founder and CEO Joyce Brenny, who emphasized the carrier’s safety rating and its slow, graduated training process.

Lowering the minimum age for interstate truck drivers from 21 to 18 also could bring more young people into the industry.

Garner Trucking’s Brumbaugh urged carriers to participate in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s three-year Safe ­Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program.

“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act requires the ­FMCSA to establish an apprenticeship pilot program that would allow drivers between the ages of 18-20 with an intrastate commercial driver license to operate interstate, but it requires a trucking company to follow rigid rules to participate,” she said.

While becoming a participating carrier and apprentice trainer can be challenging, Brumbaugh said it is necessary.

“If we as an industry fail to participate, we will be the barrier ourselves to attracting a younger generation to our beloved trucking industry,” she said.

Lindsey Trent, president and co-founder of the Next Generation in Trucking Association, said the industry can’t wait until potential hires reach the age of 18. Instead, it has to find ways to engage young people early in their high school careers.

“They are getting bombarded from other industries — welding, plumbing and electricians — and trucking needs to be a part of the conversations too,” Trent said.

The Gen Z workforce is smaller, and skilled trade jobs are growing, she added. “Pair that with the aging workforce that is retiring, and that could equal disaster for our future.”

NextGen Trucking works with student organizations and presents trucking careers to school guidance counselors.

“We have careers that are high skill, high wage and high demand, but young people need to be educated about them in order to be attracted to them,” Trent said.

One of the challenges is that more teenagers are graduating from high school without a driver’s license.

“Acquiring a CDL builds upon an individual’s personal driving record,” Garner Trucking’s Brumbaugh said. “Trucking companies should work collaboratively with our communities to share the importance of obtaining a driver’s license.”

A More Diverse Workforce

Women can play a large part in expanding the industry’s labor pool.

Ellen Voie, founder of Women In Trucking, a nonprofit organization promoting opportunities for women in the transportation industry, said women represent nearly 14% of all over-the-road drivers, and she expects that number to increase.

“More and more women are seeing the opportunity to earn a middle-class income while being able to travel,” she said.

NextGen Trucking’s Trent said young people need to see female role models in trucking and know they are welcome in this industry.

“We need to actively put that messaging out there,” she said.

Attracting employees from across diverse demographics also can help strengthen the industry’s workforce.

“Every person can come into the trucking industry, and there should be no barriers because of gender, race or identity,” Garner Trucking’s Brumbaugh said.

Voie believes there will be more Hispanic drivers and more drivers from Eastern European countries.

“There have been a lot of refugees entering the country, and if we can embrace their customs and accommodate them, we can train them to become ­professional drivers,” she said.

Touting Technology

The advance of technology in the trucking industry can be a valuable tool for attracting new employees.

Old Dominion Freight Line emphasizes the technology installed in a modern truck when meeting with high school students and potential workers in Gen Z, Cox said.

“When we have on-site career fairs, it is important for potential hires to see the equipment they will be working with,” she said. “Once they see the technology, their eyes open up as this is not something they expected.”

ODFL, based in Thomasville, N.C., ranks No. 10 on the for-hire TT100.

Rich Johnson, vice president of school operations at Werner, said technology is a differentiator.

“The next generation has a higher expectation on how ‘connected’ they are to their com­pany, whether it is company apps, in-cab communications or ways for family to stay connected with them while they are on the road,” he said.

Offering More Than a Job

Younger people are increasingly interested in career progression opportunities.

“Gen Z wants to see defined career paths and what you will do as a company to invest in your employees and their future,” NextGen Trucking’s Trent said. “Do you provide a mentorship program, ongoing training or tuition reimbursement? Gen Z wants to work for a company that cares about them and that will develop them.”

Jim Mayer, senior director of media relations and network communications at UPS Inc., said the company fills most of its driver positions by training and promoting from within.

New employees typically are hired to handle packages in UPS facilities.

“After some time in that role, they can bid and train for full-time positions as drivers,” Mayer said. “For those who want to advance their career, the sky is the limit. Our previous CEO, David Abney, started his career loading trucks in Mississippi.”

UPS ranks No. 1 on the for-hire TT100.

Alyssa and Brittney Strickland, 30-year-old twin sisters, ­started with UPS handling packages and then earned their CDLs. Today they work for the company as supervisors within its Class 8 “­feeder” operations.

“A lot of young people are willing to go into this area, but they don’t know about it,” Alyssa Strickland said, adding that 21-year-olds can take advantage of great opportunities immediately. “We give them that free training, and they can get their CDL.”

Two of A. Duie Pyle’s best recruiting tools are its truck driving academy and leadership development program.

“We want to give all our em­ployees, not just drivers, the opportunity to continue to grow and expand their skill sets,” Udovich said.

Many of today’s drivers want a potential pathway to a career outside of the truck, such as in dispatch, maintenance, ­safety or some other management function, DriverReach’s Reymer ­explained.

Werner’s Polenz said many of Werner’s professional drivers have leveraged their driving experience into nondriving jobs in its safety and operations departments.

Having a CDL can add value to those in other positions.

“It is easier to dispatch when you know what is going on,” Brittney Strickland said. “A CDL is a great thing to have even if you don’t use it.”

Isabella Johnson, 18, ­recently earned her CDL and works at Concrete Products in Rhine­lander, Wis. She doesn’t plan to work in over-the-road trucking right now but might someday and thought a CDL would give her flexibility.

“I work with big machinery, and I wanted to be able to haul what­ever I wanted whenever I ­needed,” she said.

Emphasizing Culture

Company culture is essential to attracting and retaining drivers who want to feel like they are part of a team.

“They deserve information about what is happening, ­changes that are coming, and how the company is doing,” ODFL’s Cox said. “Sometimes, I think that aspect can be overlooked as we get caught up in the day-to-day, but it is essential drivers know what is going on with the company and know they play a crucial role in its success.”

Brenny has found that younger workers are tired of hierarchies.

“I’m not saying they shouldn’t earn their stripes, but they want it known that they have a voice and are part of the team,” she said.

Many members of Gen Z also seek out opportunities to give back to society.

Brenny Transportation taps into that with its “Haul of Fame,” which highlights essential products the company has hauled.

“We talk about the difference they’re making and the lives that they are making better,” Brenny said. “Talking about those things is inspiring, and they need to have that sense of purpose and how important their job is.”

Autonomous Vehicle Transit Pilot in Rural Minnesota to Expand with $9.3M Federal Grant

By Andy Castillo, American City & County

Ten months into its 18-month-long pilot initiative, an autonomous vehicle transit program in rural Minnesota, goMARTI (Minnesota’s Autonomous Rural Transit Initiative), has received a $9.3 million federal technology grant to expand into Grand Rapids, Minn.

Since launching with a fleet of five self-driving vehicles in September (three of which have ADA-compliant wheelchair ramps), goMARTI has provided on-demand service to about 70 pick-up and drop-off points in a 16.5 square-mile area. The expansion will add community-requested stops to the east and south of the current area, including Minnesota North College Itasca, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank and Walmart.

“Connecting residents with these rural community destinations will allow for equitable access to critical services in the region through a convenient and reliable shared mobility option. We are excited about continuing the state’s interagency collaboration between the Iron Range and MnDOT in the state’s transition to shared, electric and automated transportation,” said Ida Rukavina, commissioner of Minnessota’s Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation board in a statement. With the federal Advanced Transportation Technology and Innovation Program grant and additional “EV infrastructure planning underway, northeastern Minnesota is well positioned to help create a better future for rural transportation.”

Along with the added stops, administrators are planning to use the funding to add another autonomous vehicle to the fleet along with three fully electric, non-autonomous vehicles that will serve the Grand Rapids area and the nearby communities of Cohasset and La Prairie, Minn.

While initially launched to help people in rural Minnessota get to and from jobs, medical and other appointments, the expansion will reach a new population.

“Expanding goMARTI to Minnesota North College Itasca is a big win for our current and prospective students,” said Dr. Michael Raich, president of Minnesota North College in the statement. “Reliable transportation is a barrier for many people, and this free and convenient shuttle option will make college much more accessible to those who don’t live on or near campus. This project also presents an opportunity for our college to prepare our future workforce by exposing students to emerging technologies and careers in the transportation industry.”

The grant will also be used to integrate goMARTI into the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) trip planning platform, the Transit App, which is currently being used in southern Minnesota. Funding will also support continued research from the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies and workforce development efforts with Minnesota North College. Minnesota North College will be developing curriculum to leverage the project creating student experience opportunities, new curriculum opportunities and career pathways in new technology.

Phoenix is Emerging as the City of the Future

By Jessica Boehm, Axios

Phoenix is having a moment.

  • Recent major investments in computer chip manufacturing and electric and autonomous vehicles have made it the overnight darling of the U.S. innovation elite.

Why it matters: The broad attention is showing the world what local leaders have spent the past half-century trying to prove: This desert city can be a major player in global tech and manufacturing.

State of play: Arizona has attracted more semiconductor investment since 2020 than any other U.S. state — driven mainly by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s $40 billion facilities in north Phoenix.

  • Semiconductors are used in just about every electronic device — including electric and autonomous cars, fields in which Phoenix is also thriving.

Waymo has been testing its self-driving vehicles in metro Phoenix since 2017.

  • It recently doubled its local ride-hailing service area to cover 180 square miles, the largest fully autonomous service area in the world.
  • Five EV manufacturers have set up shop in Arizona since 2016, per the Arizona Commerce Authority.

How it happened: Government and business leaders pledged to diversify Phoenix’s construction-based economy after it collapsed during the 2008 housing crash.

  • They formed the Arizona Commerce Authority, offered incentives and relaxed regulations to lure new companies.

Yes, but: Those moves were built on the back of decades of groundwork, strategic investments — and maybe some dumb luck too.

Flashback: Metro Phoenix was home to several U.S. Air Force and Navy training bases during World War II, which made it a natural fit for post-war military manufacturing.

  • Motorola arrived in 1949, becoming the area’s first semiconductor facility.
  • Intel followed, opening its first fabrication plant in the area in 1980.
  • They attracted chemical suppliers, engineering outfits and other skilled manufacturing companies to metro Phoenix.

Meanwhile: The area has invited auto companies to test their products here for decades.

  • General Motors, Goodyear, Ford, Chrysler and others established proving grounds on the outskirts of town in the 1940s and 1950s.
  • Many still exist and are now used to test electric and autonomous vehicles.

What’s next: Homegrown innovation.

  • Intel has been around long enough to see some of its engineers leave and start their own ventures. For example: Footprint, a Gilbert, Arizona-based company designing alternatives to plastic food packaging.
  • Venture capitalists are finally taking the city’s startup scene seriously. In 2015, Arizona companies secured $396 million in VC money, per PitchBook. By 2018, that number had ballooned to $2.5 billion — though investments have slowed since.

Reality check: How far Phoenix’s national star rises depends on the city confronting some daunting challenges.

  • It’s facing big city problems like housing affordability for the first time — plus the increasingly dire challenge of water security.

Hudson Valley CC Plans $85M Applied Tech Education Center

By Michael Gwizdala, The Record

Realizing the potential of the “invisible workforce.” That goal was top of mind as educators, students, community and business leaders, and elected officials gathered at Hudson Valley Community College’s Cogan Hall Automotive Lab, Wednesday morning. They gathered to unveil plans for an Applied Technology Education Center (ATEC) on HVCC’s Troy campus.

The proposed $85 million, 130,000-square-foot facility will look to train graduates for the “new economy.” ATEC will provide credit and non-credit offerings, preparing new and returning learners for in-demand careers with long and short-term programs. Students will be trained in career industries including but not limited to automotive and transportation technologies, offshore wind, HVAC, welding, and semiconductor manufacturing. ATEC’s increased capacity will have the potential to add 15,000 technicians to New York’s workforce by 2035.

HVCC President Dr. Roger Ramsammy remarked on the need to create skilled workers to match the needs of approximately 17 million vacant skill trade and applied-related jobs.

“Just in our region, we are experiencing unprecedented demands for electricians, electrical engineers, HVAC, mechatronics technicians, semiconductor manufacturing technicians, welders, welding fabricators, electric and autonomous vehicle technicians, and more!” Ramsammy exclaimed.

“We know because that’s our business here at the college and we have to interact with our community, who comes to us begging us to provide that workforce,” Ramsammy continued.

He noted the preparations the college has taken to realize this vision of creating a future workforce, back in 2018.

“We’ve put together what was needed to be in that building. We began establishing the groundwork for what’s going to be in this building by targeting the invisible workforce. We began by building a high school on our campus because we knew that we had to reach deep to our middle school students and get them into our high schools with a mindset,” Ramsammy explained.

Unlike some other four-year institutions, Ramsammy noted the importance of investing in students who will stay and work here in our communities for the local economy and incentivizing more to do the same.

“At Hudson Valley when you pour dollars into here, 97 percent of the kids stay right here and do what they’re supposed to do, serve our business community,” Ramsammy noted.

“This 130,000 square foot building is a building that is going to be constructed to serve that invisible community and it is our friends, our family today, who is going to be part of a signing ceremony to pledge to continue to work with us to make sure that those invisible workers enter that building and exit with the skills whether it’s three months of training of credit or non-credit, six months of training of credit or non-credit, or one year or whether they decide to go on for degrees, it doesn’t matter as long as they have the skills to serve your business is what’s important at the end of the day,” Ramsammy added.

When built, ATEC will enable HVCC to:

  • Increase enrollment in skilled trades programs by 200 percent.
  • Train up to 5,000 new skilled technicians in the next decade, to support the workforce in the areas they are needed most.
  • Expand current programs in areas like Electric and Autonomous Vehicles and Welding and Fabrication to support emerging industries.
  • Establish new programs that focus on areas of key demand.
  • Expand fast-track workforce training courses for those already employed in key industries by offering advanced, industry-validated certifications and skill- and competency-based non-credit workforce training programs and boot camps.
  • Become a magnet for manufacturers and other technical companies around the region and the Northeast seeking a highly skilled workforce and use of industry resources.
  • Fill the skilled trades industry’s skills gap, meet workforce demand, and help grow the region’s economy.
  • Provide the model for other centers for applied technologies at SUNY institutions statewide.

Opinion: Autonomous Trucks Will Boost Safety While Cutting Costs for California Businesses

By Paul Cramer, Times of San Diego

More than 12,250 victims were killed or injured in motor vehicle crashes in my home county of Riverside in 2020. That’s not just a sobering statistic; it is a stark reminder of lost loved ones and members of our community.

Nearly 10% of California crashes involve a truck, and 1 in 3 long-haul truck drivers experience a serious crash in their career. As a small business owner, I’m concerned about our state’s unsafe roads and optimistic about the future of autonomous trucks for Riverside County and the rest of the state.

Regrettably, fearmongering and misinformation has California lawmakers considering putting the brakes on autonomous trucks in the Golden State with Assembly Bill 316. We should not preemptively ban AV trucks, but instead encourage California safety officials to put regulations and oversight in place to ensure the highest levels of safety for this new technology.

AV trucks do not get sleepy or distracted. They have 360-degree vision, seeing farther and more clearly, day or night, than human truck drivers. By removing fatal human errors, AV trucks stand to radically improve safety on our roads.

At the same time, businesses like mine are facing labor shortages, historic inflation and strangled supply chains. Rather than accept this as fate, AV trucks can pave the way for sustained prosperity and resiliency. The United States is short 80,000 truck drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations — a number set to double within the decade.

Deploying autonomous trucks can help alleviate the driver shortage by filling in the existing gaps, without replacing jobs. If the state indefinitely requires every AV truck have a human safety operator onboard, California will only be exacerbating the shortage, rather than unlocking the technology to bolster our supply chain resiliency.

Restricting autonomous trucks doesn’t just hurt the bottom lines of California businesses; every Californian is impacted when businesses and consumers don’t get essentials on time. Prices go up; shelves remain bare; items get crossed off menus. Business owners have been trying to cope with the supply chain crisis for nearly 3 years at this point.

Many autonomous truck developers are based right here in California, supporting jobs and communities in the state. Why would we turn this economic development away while nearby states like Arizona and Texas are welcoming them and securing the economic and safety benefits?

In addition to bolstering the state’s supply chain and helping to raise total economic output for all industries, autonomous trucks can also help us achieve our state’s climate goals. Autonomous trucks can help reduce fuel consumption by at least 10% due to their model driving behavior.

It’s bad enough that California’s regulators have yet to establish the safety regime to permit AV trucks to drive in the state. Right now, an autonomous truck could drive from the Port of Savannah, Ga., all the way across the country through seven states before needing to stop at the Colorado River — unable to cross into California. Yet AB 316 would prematurely skip ahead of the DMV and Highway Patrol’s regulations, permanently kneecapping this innovation’s opportunities.

California has long been an incubator of innovation. To radically improve safety, the state must harness our technological prowess and leadership to reflect today’s safety and economic realities, boosting our agriculture, manufacturing, retail and other industries throughout the state. To truly initiate the changes that Californians need, state lawmakers must unlock — not obstruct– autonomous trucks once the appropriate regulations are in place to ensure the safety of everyone.

There needs to be a start to this innovation and California needs to once again lead innovation for the rest of the country.

Autonomy and Road Safety: California Must Choose the Road to Travel

By Tara Andringa, the Orange County Register

For the past two decades, California has been the global leader in autonomous vehicle technology, revolutionizing how we transport people and goods. The state has developed a robust system for overseeing the development, testing, and deployment of highly automated vehicles; the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which regulates the safety of this technology, has issued permits to 40 manufacturers through the most developed AV regulatory process of any state.

Autonomous vehicles can make California’s roads safer, reduce emissions, and bolster the state’s economy through the creation of new jobs. AVs have created thousands of jobs for people of all education and skill levels, and manufacturers are creating pathways to high-tech jobs that do not require four-year degrees. The autonomous trucking sector alone could increase the state’s economic activity by $7.9 billion in 2019 gross domestic product (GDP), according to a study from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group Foundation.

As AV technology matures, we are at a crossroads of determining how we can ensure the societal potential that the technology offers — such as greater road safety and new transportation options for people who can’t drive a car — while making sure we are ensuring that we are introducing these new technologies in a thoughtful, deliberate and safe manner.

The California Senate is considering legislation this week, which passed the Assembly recently, that would prohibit the operation of driverless trucks in the state by requiring every autonomous truck to also have a human driver inside. Sponsors of the bill argue that it is about improving road safety — but opponents point out that banning new safety technologies will reinforce the status quo of deaths on our highways and would overturn years of progress by California’s top safety regulators overseeing the safe integration of driverless trucks.

Advancing road safety in California

Every year, we see too many tragic injuries and deaths on our roads, too much pollution, and too much time wasted in gridlock. At the root of these challenges are human errors and choices: reckless, intoxicated, and distracted driving behaviors that lead to crashes, congestion, and hours spent idling in traffic.

And these trends are headed in the wrong direction: Approximately 4,407 Californians lost their lives in traffic crashes in 2022 — a 3% increase over the previous year. The size and weight of trucks make them particularly prone to causing severe crashes; according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the United States saw a 27 percent increase in fatalities in fatal crashes involving large trucks in 2020 — and 83% of those were not occupants of the truck.

The underlying technology of autonomous trucks has the potential to improve road safety for all California road users. By leveraging advanced sensors, artificial intelligence, and sophisticated algorithms, autonomous trucks are capable of detecting potential hazards, analyzing complex road conditions, and responding with unmatched speed and precision.

Unlike human drivers, autonomous trucks are not subject to fatigue, distraction, or impairment, ensuring constant attentiveness that prohibits crashes caused by human error.

Striking the balance

California’s highway safety experts have developed a framework that requires intensive testing, certification, and ongoing evaluation of autonomous trucks.

The DMV collaborates with industry stakeholders, researchers, and policymakers to develop this framework, addressing safety concerns while still allowing for the responsible and controlled deployment of autonomous trucks.

Assembly Bill 316 would close the door to this regulatory framework developed by the state’s top safety experts and institute a blanket prohibition on autonomous trucks, regardless of their safety records.

There remains a great deal of public skepticism about automated vehicles. My organization, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education, exists to foster fact-based conversations that acknowledge the deep uncertainty new technologies can bring — and the benefits in safety and mobility these technologies promise.

As Californians consider how best to approach autonomous trucking, they should recognize another risk — the risk of maintaining a status quote that kills the equivalent of more than one packed airliner full of passengers every week.