NY state senator introduces bill requiring driver in autonomous trucks

Updated Jan 16, 2024
Sen. Pete Harckham at press conference

A New York state legislator recently introduced a union-supported bill that would require a driver to be present in any autonomous truck on state highways.

Sen.  Pete Harckham, a Democrat from South Salem in Westchester County, and leaders from Teamsters Local 456  announced new legislation that will require drivers to accompany trucks with autonomous operating technology traveling on roadways in New York. The announcement was made earlier this month at a special press conference at the headquarters of Teamsters Local 456. 

Joining Harckham and Louis A. Picani, president and principal officer of Teamsters Local 456, for the announcement were a number of other Teamsters officials, as well as Rachel Estroff, chief-of-staff for State Sen. Shelley B. Mayer, a co-sponsor of the new autonomous operating bill (S.7758).

“The integral role of the trucking industry in our lives means we have to be proactive and vigilant about public safety and job security when it comes to technological innovations like autonomous operating vehicles,” said Harckham. “My bill simply requires autonomous vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or more to have a licensed driver behind the wheel. This common-sense measure will ensure greater protection for residents and property while providing job security for over 270,000 New Yorkers.”

Right now, the vehicle and traffic laws of New York State have no requirements for the heaviest vehicles, such as semi-trucks, to have a human being in the cab capable of taking control of the vehicle in case of emergency, according to a statement from Harckham's office.

“Most people will agree that until this new technology is entirely ‘road-tested’ and glitch-free, we need drivers behind the wheel of autonomous operating trucks here in New York," said Harckham.

The trucking industry in New York is responsible for 270,000 jobs — one out of every 27 jobs in the state — and produces wages over $16 billion annually, much of it spent right here in New York, Harckham said in a statement. In total, there are about 58,300 heavy and tractor-trailer drivers working now who are state residents.

“The truck industry is the backbone to middle-class social mobility, but unfortunately these good-paying jobs are under attack,” Harckham noted.

“Senator Harckham’s bill would not only protect the livelihood of people being impacted by vehicles without a human operator, but it would also protect every person traveling in and out of the State of New York, including g pedestrians and tourists, as these unmanned trucks are lethal weapons,” said Picani. 

“S. 7758 will impose a premature and permanent ban on autonomous trucks in New York. AVs and truck drivers will work together to support New York’s rising freight demand and the supply chain’s manufacturers, farmers, and small businesses," Jeff Farrah, Chief Executive Officer of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association told Commercial Carrier Journal. "The AV industry strongly opposes S. 7758, and we urge lawmakers to not move forward with this legislation, just like several states already have."