Connect with us

Politics

Driverless trucks on California highways? Legislators don’t trust the DMV to ensure safety

Published

on

Driverless trucks on California highways? Legislators don’t trust the DMV to ensure safety

When Teslas are in self-driving mode, they’ve been recorded crossing into oncoming traffic and hitting parked cars. But what would happen if an 80,000-pound, 18-wheel driverless truck suddenly went off the rails?

That’s an experiment some California legislators aren’t ready to run. They argue that the state Department of Motor Vehicles has so badly mishandled the driverless car industry that it can’t be trusted to oversee big rigs barreling down the highways autonomously.

AB 316 — which would wrest control of driverless truck testing and deployment from the DMV and require human drivers in the cab for at least five years while a safety record is collected — passed in the Assembly on Wednesday. The bill now goes to the state Senate and if passed will head to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his signature.

Its proponents argue that effective laws and regulations depend on shared data, institutional trust and public transparency, and that the DMV is struggling with all three.

“Ultimately, this issue is of such importance and relevance that we can’t abdicate our responsibility to the DMV, and the DMV doesn’t have the capacity to think about the consequences going forward,” Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) said in an interview.

Advertisement

Laura Friedman, chair of state Assembly’s transportation committee, explains her lack of trust in the DMV. (California State Assembly)

In a recent hearing, Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), the head of the Assembly’s transportation committee, put it more plainly: “The DMV has not done a great job at regulating this space.”

Advertisement

DMV Director Steve Gordon did not respond to a request from The Times for comment. In fact, the former Silicon Valley executive has rarely spoken with the media about anything at all since Newsom named him to the post in 2019.

The driverless truck industry, however, has pushed back hard, saying AB 316 would harm California’s technological competitiveness. Meanwhile, public debate over the bill is highlighting concerns about safety and job loss, as human drivers of commercial vehicles face replacement by computer systems programmed with artificial intelligence.

How we got here

The Legislature handed driverless vehicle regulation to the DMV when it passed its first bill governing such vehicles in 2012. Hearings held at the time focused on the wonderful future ahead for driverless cars — no more crashes, no more traffic jams.

Autonomous vehicle engineers, including former Google executive Anthony Levandowski, made safety claims that went largely unchallenged. “Our data so far is showing that the technology is able to drive safer than our trained and professional drivers at the wheel,” he said.

Because AI vehicles theoretically could drive at high speeds bumper to bumper, “it’ll really clear up the 110 and the 405 and the 710,” said Mark DeSaulnier, then the chair of the state Senate transportation committee. (DeSaulnier is now a member of Congress.)

Advertisement

Eleven years later, those freeways are as jam-packed as ever. And the safety information on those self-driving passenger cars? It’s spotty — in large part because the DMV and the vehicle industry are working to keep key safety data out of public view.

In 2021, after a public records filing by an unidentified individual, the DMV invited Waymo to seek a court injunction to prevent the agency from releasing full crash reports.

Black bars hide crash information about Waymo driverless cars

Waymo and the DMV worked together on a precedent-setting court agreement that allows the company to black out safety information on the public version of its robotaxi crash reports.

(California Department of Motor Vehicles)

After the injunction was granted, the DMV — with the legal assistance of California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta — cut a deal with Waymo to keep the information concealed on the grounds of protecting company trade secrets, according to court records. The deal, approved in Sacramento County Superior Court, allows Waymo to redact most of the details of collision reports as well as information on how the company handles driverless car emergencies, for at least two years.

Advertisement

Although those vehicles, thus far, have not killed or seriously injured anyone in the state, news reports show they can cause plenty of problems on the road: They tend to brake suddenly; block traffic as they pause to decide what to do; cruise through construction zones; and “brick” or stall in traffic, requiring a human on the scene to move the car. They’ve even fled from police.

What Tesla has to do with it

Although the performance of Waymo and Cruise robotaxis operating in San Francisco concerns many legislators — including Friedman — what is especially troubling, they say, is the DMV’s relationship with Tesla.

That is “what really tilted the balance for me” to support AB 316, Friedman said. At a committee hearing in March, she slammed the DMV “particularly in regard to one particular auto manufacturer and their overstated promise of what their vehicle actually is capable of doing.” Friedman argued that Tesla’s marketing claims are “leading to confusion from the drivers and purchasers of those vehicles and to lots of tragic accidents that could have been prevented with better oversight from the DMV and [federal] regulators.”

The department allows the electric-car company to test driverless technology on California roads without a permit, while other companies are expected to conform to rules that require permits and trained test drivers. Tesla has said that the feature it calls Full Self-Driving is a technology that requires human attention, and doesn’t require a permit, according to email records released under California’s Public Records Act by the court transparency organization PlainSite.

Meanwhile, the DMV allows Tesla to market this technology package as Full Self-Driving. That name appears to violate the DMV’s own rule — now a state law — against marketing cars as autonomous when they aren’t capable of fully driving themselves. The DMV said the matter is under investigation, but that investigation has dragged on for more than two years.

Advertisement

“The lack of information after two years is deeply concerning,” said Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), who heads the state Senate’s transportation committee.

When asked about the issue recently, Newsom said he had “great confidence” in Gordon and his team. The governor said he’s grateful for legislative oversight. But pressed on the specific criticisms aimed at the DMV, he said: “Forgive me for not being alarmed or shocked.”

What is — and isn’t — at stake

The driverless technology industry, centered in Silicon Valley, is opposed to AB 316. “The economic impact of this bill is going to be devastating,” said Jeff Farrah, who heads the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Assn., which represents Waymo, Cruise, Motional, Aurora Innovation and other driverless car and truck technology companies. “California will cede its position as a leader in the development of autonomous vehicles to other states that are embracing this lifesaving technology at a rapid pace.”

Bill supporters regard such statements as alarmist hyperbole.

“It’s easy for people to threaten to leave,” said Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), co-author of the bill, which is supported by the Teamsters union. “People aren’t going to leave because of this,” she said, noting the rich pool of technology talent clustered in Silicon Valley. Tesla, in fact, announced in February that it would move its Texas engineering team back to California, in part to attract and retain talented engineers.

Advertisement

The industry notes that states including Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Florida already allow driverless trucks on public highways. AB 316 would slow down plans to deploy driverless trucks from Southern California seaports eastward across the country.

The bill would not block driverless truck deployment at the ports themselves or on private property. Asked whether the Port of Long Beach plans to allow testing anytime soon, Anthony Otto, chief executive of the port’s container terminal, said no. “It’s completely a safety issue,” he said.

Aguiar-Curry said for now she’s happy to let companies test driverless trucks away from California‘s highways, citing her constituents’ safety concerns.

She also contends that the trucking industry’s main concern is not safety but profit.

The business case for autonomous trucks is the vast reduction in labor costs when humans are no longer needed to do the driving. Replacing the estimated 350,000 truck drivers who work in California alone would lead to huge cost savings.

Advertisement

Notably, driverless truck companies are not yet profitable, and cash flow is a big issue. With rising interest rates, capital is harder to come by and the companies need to show progress to attract more investment before their cash runs out. One autonomous truck company, Embark, went bust earlier this year.

Driverless truck companies are funneling millions of dollars into research and development and studies documenting their safety and reliability profile. A recent study from Waymo on collision avoidance suggests the reaction time is quicker for the AI driver than for human beings.

However, as it fights AB 316, the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Assn. continues to make debatable claims about safety.

Farrah has said: “Autonomous trucks are safer than trucks operated by humans.” Former California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Childs, a paid consultant for the driverless vehicle industry group, recently told legislators that “in my opinion, autonomous technology is safer than a human driver.”

Although no major crashes involving driverless trucks have been reported, data on whether AI drivers are safer than humans aren’t yet able to settle the question. A paper published by the research group Rand Corp. said vehicles may have to be driven hundreds of billions of miles to make the case.

Advertisement

No legislator is alleging that AI-driven cars are necessarily less safe than those driven by humans. They’re saying no evidence has been presented, and the technology still has enough bugs to warrant more study, particularly before it’s extended to big-rig trucks.

Just having an AI semi truck stop dead on a freeway for a period of time could cause major traffic problems, said Assemblymember Laurie Davies (R-Laguna Niguel): “If something happens on [some stretches of] the 5 Freeway, there’s no way of getting around it. What do you do? How long does it actually take to move something like this?”

AB 316 would “give us the opportunity to find out what are the glitches when we’re looking at large vehicles like this, and how we fix them so they don’t happen again,” Davies said.

For its part, the driverless trucking industry contends that the Legislature lacks the expertise to adjudicate the issue correctly.

“The legislation puts the determination for very important safety and fact-based decisions in the hands of the Legislature instead of the able and experienced regulators at the DMV,” said Mufaddal Ezzy, head of government relations for Aurora Innovation.

Advertisement

Waymo head of government relations Annabel Chang said via email: “If the legislature takes away decision-making power from these experts and creates a complicated political process to approve the operation of autonomous trucks, it will result in indefinitely delayed improvements to road safety and sustainability.”

The experience level of the DMV regulators, however, is thin. The DMV official in charge of driverless car regulation, Miguel Acosta, has no prior experience in vehicle safety regulation or in motor vehicle technology. Before being named to his current job in 2018, he ran customer service for DMV vehicle registration and managed its field offices.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Politics

Biden rakes in big bucks last month, but haul is far short of Trump's massive May fundraising

Published

on

Biden rakes in big bucks last month, but haul is far short of Trump's massive May fundraising

President Biden’s 2024 re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised a combined $85 million in May, which is their second-best month of fundraising this election cycle.

But the money raised by Biden and the DNC is far short of the staggering haul raised by former President Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee last month.

In announcing their May fundraising figures on Thursday evening, the Biden campaign also highlighted that they had a massive $212 million cash-on-hand as of the end of May. 

“Our strong and consistent fundraising program grew by millions of people in May, a clear sign of strong and growing enthusiasm for the President and Vice President every single month,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement. 

BIDEN STRIKES GOLD IN CALIFORNIA, ONE WEEK AFTER TRUMP’S MASSIVE HAUL IN THE BLUE BASTION 

Advertisement

President Biden’s re-election campaign scolded MSNBC and CNN on Wednesday for ignoring a “Black Voters for Biden-Harris” rally in Philadelphia. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Biden’s announcement came on the final day the presidential campaigns had to file their May fundraising figures with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

But the Trump campaign didn’t wait for the deadline to tout its May fundraising haul.

The former president’s campaign announced two and a half weeks ago that they and the RNC, fueled in part by the former president’s guilty verdicts in his criminal trial, combined hauled in a stunning $141 million in fundraising in May.

That was up from the $76 million they raised in April when they topped President Biden and the Democratic National Committee for the first time in their 2024 election rematch. 

Advertisement
Donald Trump arrives to Trump Tower after being found guilty

Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower on May 30, 2024 in New York City after being found guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. (Felipe Ramales for Fox News Digital)

Spotlighting their grassroots appeal, the Trump campaign said that the average dollar donation was $70.27 with 25% of the donors in May being first time contributors to the former president’s 2024 run.

The Trump cash announcement came in the wake of what his campaign showcased as “record-shattering” fundraising immediately after he was found guilty of all 34 felony counts in the first trial of a former or current president in the nation’s history.

The former president’s campaign highlighted that in the first 24 hours following Thursday evening’s verdict, they and the RNC hauled in nearly $53 million in fundraising, which counted towards May’s total. 

BILL AND HILLARY CLINTON HELP BIDEN RAISE BIG BUCKS 

The Biden campaign also raised funds off of the Trump verdict, and a source familiar told Fox News that “the 24 hours after the verdict were one of the best fundraising 24 hours of the Biden campaign since launch.”

Advertisement

Biden’s May haul came without any major fundraising events headlined by the president. The Biden campaign says that a majority of its May fundraising came from grassroots donors. 

The campaign has been using its funds to build up what appears to be a very formidable ground operation in the key battleground states and announced hours earlier on Thursday that they had hired their 1,000 staffer. The Biden campaign enjoys a large organizational advantage over team Trump when it comes to grassroots outreach and get-out-the-vote ground game efforts.

Biden v Trump

File photos of President Biden (left) and former President Trump ((AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson and Evan Vucci))

“The money we continue to raise matters, and it’s helping the campaign build out an operation that invests in reaching and winning the voters who will decide this election,” Chavez Rodriguez highlighted.

Biden’s campaign appears to enjoy a large cash-on-hand advantage over Trump, whose campaign didn’t report their cash-on-hand amount in announcing their May fundraising. The campaigns are not legally required to report those figures until the end of July, following the close of the second quarter of fundraising.

Biden enjoyed a $146 million to $88 million cash-on-hand advantage over Trump at the end of March, following the close of the first fundraising quarter of the year.

Advertisement

Trump has been aiming to close his fundraising gap with Biden, who had regularly been outpacing Trump in monthly fundraising.

Trump at a rally

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump walks to the podium at a campaign event Tuesday, June 18, 2024, in Racine, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Trump’s April haul was boosted by a record-setting $50.5 million that the former president’s campaign raked in at a single event early in the month with top dollar GOP donors that was hosted at the Palm Beach, Florida home of billionaire investor John Paulson.

Both candidates have held top dollar fundraising events so far in June.

The president set a new Democratic Party fundraising record – according to his campaign – as he hauled in over $30 million at a star-studded fundraiser on Saturday in Los Angeles with former President Obama, Hollywood heavyweights George Clooney and Julia Roberts, and late night TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

Advertisement
Obama smiles with Biden

President Joe Biden (L) laughs with former President Barack Obama onstage during a campaign fundraiser at the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles on June 15, 2024. (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

And he brought in $8.1 million at a fundraiser at the Northern Virginia home of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, where he was also joined by former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State and former Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was the Democrats’ 2016 standard-bearer.

Meanwhile, Trump’s team touted that they hauled in roughly $27.5 million during a fundraising swing by the former president in California and Nevada a week ago.

Fundraising, along with public opinion polling, is a key metric used to measure the strength of a candidate and their campaign. Money raised can be used to build up grassroots outreach and get-out-the-vote operations, staffing, travel and ads, among other things.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Politics

Fox News and others sign on to carry CNN's presidential debate

Published

on

Fox News and others sign on to carry CNN's presidential debate

Broadcast and cable networks, including Fox News and ABC, are falling in line to carry the simulcast of CNN’s presidential debate on June 27, the first general election face-off of this cycle between President Biden and former president Trump.

The cooperation marks a first among the typically fierce competitors.

Since 1988 and until now, presidential debates were organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates and presented across multiple outlets. The commission controlled the choices of venues and moderators, with different networks handling the technical aspects of the broadcasts.

The campaigns for the presumptive 2024 nominees bypassed the commission this year and agreed to two debates produced by individual networks. The first will be moderated by CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash at the network’s Atlanta studio, while ABC will produce and carry the second event on Sept. 10. The running mates — Vice President Kamala Harris and Trump’s to-be-determined veep pick — are expected to meet on CBS.

Some outlets pushed back on CNN’s requirements for the simulcast, which include running the network’s logo on screen and referring to the event as the “CNN Presidential Debate” in all promotional spots and press releases.

Advertisement

But Fox News followed its rival’s conditions, announcing its plans Thursday. The coverage, including analysis and opinion commentary, will be called “Fox News Democracy 2024: CNN Presidential Debate.”

Fox News Media will present the event on the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, the Fox broadcast network and the company’s streaming service Fox Nation.

Shannon Bream, anchor of “Fox News Sunday,” will lead the coverage on the broadcast network. Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will handle the event on cable. Pro-Trump “Fox & Friends” weekend co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy will give her take on Fox Nation.

While Fox News is respecting CNN’s guidelines, its conservative commentators have taken a typically critical tone of the network ahead of the event. In discussing the debate on Wednesday, prime time host Sean Hannity referred to Tapper as “Fake Jake” and the network as “Fake CNN.”

Based on recent history, Fox News may end up with the largest audience for the debate. In the first 2020 debate sanctioned by the commission and airing across multiple networks, Fox News had 18 million viewers, the largest share of any outlet. The total among all networks, according to Nielsen, was 73 million viewers.

Advertisement

ABC News has announced its intent to carry the simulcast — also streaming live on Hulu — with anchors David Muir and Linsey Davis overseeing the analysis. CBS News made its plans official Thursday, with evening news anchor Norah O’Donnell leading the coverage. She will be joined by “CBS Mornings” co-host Gayle King, chief political analyst John Dickerson, and “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan.

A representative for NBCUniversal News Group said it will carry the event on NBC, MSNBC and Spanish-language network Telemundo. Nexstar’s cable network NewsNation, Scripps News, and right-wing channel Newsmax have also signed on, their representatives said..

The debate is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. (Pacific) and run 90 minutes with two commercial breaks, another first for general election presidential debates, which in the past have run commercial free. The outlets carrying the simulcast are not allowed to use the breaks for commentary and analysis. CNN has said that the feed will be pulled from any outlet that violates that agreement.

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Politics

Biden admin won't say whether it plans to contact family of Maryland mom allegedly killed by illegal immigrant

Published

on

Biden admin won't say whether it plans to contact family of Maryland mom allegedly killed by illegal immigrant

The Biden administration will not say whether it has plans to reach out to the family of Rachel Morin, a Maryland mother of five who was allegedly raped and murdered by an illegal immigrant last year.

Randolph Rice, an attorney for the Morin family, told Fox News Digital on Thursday that Patty Morin, Rachel’s mother, had yet to be contacted by an official from the Biden administration.

Fox News Digital reached out to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the White House seeking information on whether they planned to make contact with the Morin family after Patty Morin told Fox News Channel’s Laura Ingraham on Wednesday that no one from the administration had contacted her or her family about the death of her daughter.

No response was given to Fox by the White House or DHS about Morin’s comments or whether they are planning to contact the family.

DEMOCRATIC GOVERNOR ‘INFURIATED’ BY MURDER OF RACHEL MORIN, REFUSES TO CRITICIZE BIDEN FOR MIGRANT CRIMES

Advertisement

From left to right: President Biden, Rachel Morin and Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas. (Getty Images)

In a statement, a DHS spokesperson said, “The Department cannot publicly comment on an ongoing criminal investigation. That said, anyone who commits a horrific and senseless crime, like the one this individual is accused of, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent under the law. Our hearts go out to Rachel Morin’s family.”

The White House offered condolences to the loved ones of Rachel Morin in a statement this week but would not say what steps it would take to secure the border when asked by a Fox News Digital reporter. 

“We extend our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Rachel Morin,” a White House spokesperson told Fox News Digital on Tuesday. “We cannot comment on active law enforcement cases. But fundamentally, we believe that people should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law if they are found to be guilty.”

Rice told Fox that former President Trump reached out to Patty Morin on Thursday morning and that the two had a 20-minute conversation about her daughter.

Advertisement

Patty Morin said in a press release offered by her attorney that she was “deeply touched by President Trump’s kindness and concern.”

“He was genuine and truly wanted to know how our family was coping,” she added. “He asked about Rachel and showed honest compassion for her untimely death. His words brought comfort to me during this very difficult time.”

Morin, 37, was reported missing in August by her boyfriend, who said she never returned after going out for a run on the Ma & Pa Trail, a pedestrian trail, in Bel Air, a quiet and typically safe town about 28 miles northeast of Baltimore, on Aug. 5, 2023.

BROTHER OF WOMAN ALLEGEDLY KILLED BY ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT SPEAKS OUT: SHE WAS A ‘JOY TO BE AROUND’

Victor Martinez Hernandez and Rachel Morin

Victor Martinez Hernandez, 23, was arrested in the murder of Rachel Morin.

Her body was found on a trail the following day.

Advertisement

Victor Martinez Hernandez, the illegal migrant suspected of murdering Morin, was arrested on June 14 after a lengthy 10-month investigation into Morin’s murder. He was charged with rape and first-degree murder.

Hernandez, who has reportedly been in the U.S. since February 2023, was apprehended while “casually sitting” at a bar in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Police said he arrived in the U.S. only a month after he allegedly murdered a young woman in El Salvador. His DNA was also linked to a March home invasion in Los Angeles, where a mother and her 9-year-old daughter were assaulted, according to authorities.

“We all suspected that Rachel was not his first victim,” Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler said during the arrest announcement last weekend. “It is my understanding that this suspect, this monster, fled to the United States illegally after committing the brutal murder of a young woman in El Salvador a month earlier in January of 2023.”

Rachel Morin arrest sign

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland posted signs at Ma & Pa Trail heads on June 17, 2024, announcing the arrest in the August 2023 murder of Rachel Morin. (Harford County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook)

Hernandez was expected to be extradited to Maryland on Thursday to face charges. He was scheduled to leave Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Thursday morning and arrive at Martin State Airport between 12:30 and 1 p.m., the Harford County Police Department confirmed.

Advertisement

Following his arrival in Maryland, the 23-year-old will be taken to the Harford County Detention Center, police said.

Fox News’ Michael Lee, Bailee Hill and Sarah Rumpf-Whitten contributed to this report.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Trending