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State of California bans autonomous tractors

by Pieter Werner

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), better known as Cal/OSHA, has denied Monarch Tractor apetition to change safety guidelines in order to make autonomous tractors possible. Monarch, a maker of fully electric, driver-optional smart tractor, said it will ‘continue to drive farming toward a smart digital future’.

For the last few years, Monarch Tractor has been working closely with Cal/OSHA to amend Title 8, Section 3441(b) to clarify the use of driver-optional tractors without a human operator stationed on the vehicle, within a strict set of safety guidelines. But the petition was denied by a 3:4 vote.

In its proposed amendment, Monarch Tractor suggested that current regulations, which originated in the 1970’s, are outdated and ambiguous, not considering ongoing 21st century autonomous technology advances in tractors and other farm machinery. The current regulations state “all self-propelled equipment shall, when under its own power and in motion, have an operator stationed at the vehicular controls.”

Despite the ruling, Cal/OSHA and Monarch Tractor continue to work closely under a temporary experimental variance to gather data, clarify the safety regulations and establish a process with key milestones for the tech providers to follow specifically in farm environments where autonomous equipment is expected to work in close proximity to farm workers.

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