California Moves Toward Autonomous Delivery Truck Testing

Tired of watching autonomous delivery pilots go to other states, California relaxes rules on goods-delivering robots smaller than a semi truck.

Ford Motor Company

Taking note of the shift in focus among autonomous drive companies toward delivery as an early business model, California's Department of Motor Vehicles is proposing new regulations that would allow self-driving delivery vehicles onto the state's roads. These new rules are the latest step in California's steadily-broadening regulations around on-road testing of autonomous vehicles, which have permitted 62 companies for deployments with safety drivers and just one, Waymo, for fully driverless testing. However, California has fallen behind states like Arizona and Texas that have seen a boom in autonomous delivery pilots, from companies like Nuro and Udelv.

"Over the past half a year or so, the DMV has been approached by companies and manufacturers that are developing business models that include the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles for services like grocery deliveries," said California DMV General Counsel Brian Soublet at a workshop on the new rules last October. "We've seen an increased media coverage of such services being piloted in other states. However, such business models are not currently viable in California because of the exclusions of vehicles described in vehicle code sections 31309 and 34500." According to the DMV's just-released Statement of Reason [PDF], "Subdivision (j) of Vehicle Code Section 34500 specifies that any motortruck “not specified in subdivisions (a) to (h), inclusive, or subdivision (k), that is regulated by the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Public Utilities Commission, or the United States Secretary of Transportation, is subject to regulation by the California Highway Patrol. Motortrucks delivering goods or products are subject to regulation by the DMV and are thus currently excluded from testing or deployment on public roads."

The new language now frees "motortrucks as defined in Vehicle Code section 410 with a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 10,001 pounds” from these restrictions opening the way for delivery vehicles of all shapes and sizes in Class 1 and Class 2. Heavy-duty semi trucks weighing more than the 10,001 lb cutoff are still not allowed on California roads, meaning operations like TuSimple, Embark, Starsky and Waymo Trucks will have to wait for another rule change before launching in California. Also excluded from the new regulations are autonomous motorcycles, motor vehicles with interstate operating authority and vehicles towing large trailers.