Driverless delivery trucks, cargo vans to hit public roads in California

While truck drivers are up in arms over a new California law that could put as many as 70,000 jobs in jeopardy, driverless light-duty trucks scored a victory this week.

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The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles authorized the testing and commercial use of light-duty autonomous delivery vehicles on public roads. Companies with a DMV permit in the state will be able to operate autonomous delivery trucks – including midsized pickup trucks and cargo vans – so long as they weigh less than 10,001 pounds. They can also be tested with or without a safety driver, depending on whether companies meet certain requirements.

Traffic backs up at the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toll plaza along Interstate 80 in July. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“The adoption of these regulations means Californians soon could receive deliveries from an autonomous vehicle, provided the company fulfills the requirements,” DMV Director Steve Gordon said in a statement. Such items might include pizza or groceries, the agency said.

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Meanwhile, on Jan. 1, a new law takes effect in California that will reclassify many independent contractors as employees. The sweeping legislation is intended to prevent workers from being wrongly classified and deprived of basic labor protections as a result. It has, however, prompted a backlash in some cases.

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The California Trucking Association filed a lawsuit to prevent the measure from being implemented earlier this month because it would seriously restrict the activities of independent owner-operators. The group said 70,000 jobs might be eliminated in the state.

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Where driverless vehicles are concerned, safety remains an issue for at least one company – Tesla. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced earlier this week that it's looking into whether the autopilot feature was responsible for a recent Model 3 crash in Connecticut. The agency has investigated 12 Tesla crashes in which autopilot may have been operating.

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