California again advances anti-autonomous truck bill | Maintenance, labor costs falling

Trucking news and briefs for Friday, July 5, 2024:

California bill requiring operator in autonomous trucks again breezing through legislature

Lawmakers in California are once again moving ahead with legislation that would restrict the use of true driverless autonomous trucks in the state.

Last year, the California legislature passed a bill that would have required a human operator to be inside an autonomous heavy-duty vehicle while it is operating on public roads in the state. California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the legislation, saying it was “unnecessary for the regulation and oversight of heavy-duty autonomous vehicle technology in California, as existing law provides sufficient authority to create the appropriate regulatory framework.”

An identical bill is once again moving through the state’s legislature, having passed the state Assembly by an overwhelming 63-4 vote on May 21. On June 25, the bill passed the state’s Senate Transportation Committee by an 11-1 vote and will move to the Senate Appropriations Committee next.

[Related: More autonomous trucks in Uber Freight network]

The Teamsters union has voiced support for the legislation, while autonomous technology stakeholders have opposed the bill. Overdrive's largely owner-operator readers, polled on the bill's approach around its last introduction in the California legislature, largely endorsed the requirement to have an operator in-cab with any autonomously operated truck. 

“I’m dumbfounded that the opposition makes the arguments that this bill limits the opportunity for them to cut ‘costs,’” said California Rep. Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, the bill’s author. “Those ‘costs’ are humans in the trucking industry, and the price [California’s] public will pay for tech companies’ mistakes is our families’, friends’, and neighbors’ safety. Our professional truck drivers are the stewards of our highways, not entries on a balance sheet. They have actually testified publicly that the industry cares more about profits than the safety of our constituents on public streets and highways.”

A separate bill moving through California’s legislature would require a manufacturer of autonomous vehicles to report to the California Department of Motor Vehicles a vehicle collision, traffic citation, or disengagement that occurs when a manufacturer’s vehicle is operating in autonomous mode in the state.

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Like the prior bill requiring a human safety operator inside an autonomous truck, the current bill overwhelmingly passed the California Assembly with a 61-3 vote, and passed the Senate Transportation Committee by a 11-2 vote. The Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee will now review and vote on the bill.

[Related: Calif. guv vetoes driverless-truck-ban legislation]

Maintenance, labor costs on the decline

The cost of trucking jumped to record highs last year, but maintenance and repair costs appear to have turned a corner. 

According to a report released Wednesday by American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council and Decisiv, combined parts and labor expenses fell 1.7% during the first quarter of 2024.

Decisiv President and CEO Dick Hyatt noted an ongoing influx of new trucks and the unkinking of the component supply chain are helping commercial asset service operations realize a widespread drop in parts costs. A lingering shortage of new technicians entering the workforce, however, continues to drive up labor costs by requiring higher spending to attract and retain qualified help from a shrinking labor pool.

In the first quarter, parts costs were down 2.4%, the second quarterly decline in a row, and labor costs fell 0.8% after two consecutive quarterly increases. On a year-over-year basis, combined costs also dropped 2.3% from the same quarter last year, according to the report. However, labor costs from year-to-year rose 0.9%. The increase was significantly smaller than the 4% bump seen in the previous quarterly report.

[Related: Keen fixed, variable cost understanding key to owner-operator success]

The latest Decisiv/TMC North American Service Event Benchmark Report shows service and repair costs across 25 key Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards (VMRS) systems continued the downward trend seen in the previous quarter when those costs fell 1.4%. Reversing the upward trend seen earlier last year quarter-over-quarter, combined parts and labor costs were up in only seven of the 25 VMRS systems, about 50% fewer than the 13 systems in the previous quarter.

Reflecting the data in the report is that the cost of parts rose in seven systems, and labor costs increased in 12 systems, but overall cost decreases were evident for both parts and labor.

In its 2024 "Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking,"  the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that repair and maintenance costs grew by 3.1% to $0.202 per mile from 2022 to 2023. Based on data compiled from January and February, those costs climbed another 2% early this year. 

The data that Decisiv collects and analyzes for the Decisiv/TMC North American Service Event Benchmark Reports on 25 VMRS system level codes accounts for more than 97% of total parts and labor costs for more than seven million assets and over 300,000 monthly maintenance and repair events at more than 5,000 service locations.

[Related: Operational costs for carriers rose in 2023 despite lower fuel costs]

Wisconsin troopers riding with truckers next week

Wisconsin State Patrol troopers will have a higher vantage point to spot dangerous driving behaviors in July thanks to a partnership with the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association.

Troopers will be riding along with truck and bus drivers to enforce traffic laws from an elevated point of view during the annual Trooper in a Truck enforcement and education initiative. The program, designed to reduce the number of crashes and injuries involving commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), will take place on highways across the state from July 8-12.

“Drivers need to pay attention on the road, especially around large trucks and buses,” Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Tim Carnahan said. “Commercial motor vehicles have large blind spots, limited maneuverability and require longer distances to stop. All motorists have to work together to prevent crashes.”

In the past five years, Wisconsin has averaged about 7,000 crashes involving large trucks every year, Wisconsin DOT said. In 2023, 70 people died in those incidents. Distracted driving contributes to many crashes and is a growing safety concern in Wisconsin.

Trooper in a Truck focuses on stopping distracted driving. When an officer identifies a violation from the truck or bus, they will radio to patrol cars in the area for appropriate enforcement action. They will also be on the lookout for other dangerous driving behaviors like speeding, reckless driving and following too close.

“This is the third year we are teaming up with the Wisconsin State Patrol to prevent dangerous driving through the Trooper in a Truck program,” Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association Safety Programs Coordinator Kim Conradt said. “We’re grateful for the wonderful partnerships that make this initiative successful.”

Trooper in a Truck is part of Operation Safe Driver Week, a nationwide awareness and enforcement initiative aimed at improving driving behaviors of passenger vehicle and CMV drivers.

Drivers can expect to see Trooper in a Truck enforcement in the following areas:

  • July 8: Hudson
  • July 9: Waukesha
  • July 10: Madison
  • July 11: Green Bay
  • July 12:  Wausau

[Related: Operation Safe Driver week happening next week]

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