California Emissions Regulations: What Freight Shippers Need to Know

Semi truck with dry van trailer travels a California highway

All across the U.S., transportation providers are fielding a persistent question from shippers: Why is it so hard to move freight in California right now? 

This struggle to find coverage for loads moving in one of America’s most economically significant regions is driven in large part by California’s rigorous vehicle emissions regulations. 

These regulations are a benchmark to which activists aspire in the fight against air pollution and climate change, but this progress isn’t without its costs. 

By implementing some of the strictest emissions regulations in the world, California also tightened a vice grip around its vital transportation industry, levying an ultimatum: Get on board or get out. 

Naturally, transportation industry leaders have pushed back against the severity of the restrictions and the state’s ambitious timeline, and the freight market has reacted, too. 

Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) navigates the effects of these regulations daily on behalf of our shipper customers. Our decades of industry expertise and firsthand experience allow us to proactively protect our shippers’ supply chains. 

In this article, we’ll share all the knowledge you need to understand California emissions regulations and make informed choices about your shipments.  

This article provides an overview of the most impactful emissions regulations currently in place in California, explains how these regulations have a trickle-down effect on shippers’ freight, and offers our expert advice on best practices for shippers navigating this new, greener market. 

By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll be prepared to discuss the current California freight market with your transportation providers and find solutions that will keep your freight moving in the Golden State. 

California Emissions Regulations: What Are They?

Overseen by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), California’s emissions regulations are the strictest in the nation, exceeding even the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current guidance. 

They aim not only to improve air quality but also to lay the groundwork for the state to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 and spearhead a nationwide shift towards greener transportation practices.

The most wide-reaching of California emissions regulations is the Truck and Bus Regulation, also referred to as CARB compliance. This regulation enforces engine standards that require virtually all trucks and buses operating in the state of California to have a 2010 engine or newer to reduce emissions.

Vehicles must also be reported in CARB’s Truck Regulations Upload, Compliance, and Reporting System (TRUCRS) system; non-compliance affects DMV registration.

CARB compliance is perhaps the biggest factor keeping carriers and drivers from accepting California freight. But the most recent regulation to shake up the trucking industry was passed in May 2023: the New Diesel Truck Ban

By successfully passing this regulation, California became the first in the world to ban new diesel trucks and require a transition to zero-emissions semi-trucks. 

Exhaust from a diesel truck tailpipe

All sales of new diesel trucks in California will be banned beginning in 2036. Large fleets must convert to electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles by 2042.

In this instance, “large fleets” refers to any trucking company with 50 or more trucks or $50 million or more in annual revenue. This includes major companies like Amazon, UPS, and FedEx as well as federal agencies like the U.S. Postal Service.

These two sweeping regulations have garnered the most pushback from major players in the shipping industry, but they’re not the only ones to affect trucking companies, their drivers, and their customers. Here are just a handful of other regulations currently impacting the freight market: 

  • AB5 (Gig Worker Law): Reclassifies many independent contractors, including truck company owner-operators, as employees. The law does not differentiate leased owner-operators from those who operate under their own authority. Carriers, brokers and even shippers will have to demonstrate that their business arrangements satisfy all 3 parts of the “ABC test":

    A) They are free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, both in contract and in fact.
    B) They perform work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.
    C) They are customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.
  • Advanced Clean Truck (ACT) Regulations cap OEM sales of diesel vehicles by mandating annual increasing sales percentages of zero-emission (ZEV) or near-zero emission vehicles (NZEV) from 2024-2035.
  • Advanced Clean Fleet is a phased inclusion of ZEVs in certain California fleet types by 2024. State and local government fleets must be 100% ZEVs by 2027, drayage fleets must be 100% ZEV by 2035, and large fleets (as defined above) must add ZEVs according to specified schedules.
  • Basic Inspection of Terminals (BIT) Program requires all commercial vehicles owned and operating within California or intrastate with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or greater to receive a bumper-to-bumper safety inspection (referred to as a BIT Inspection) every 90 days.
  • California Idling Limits ban diesel trucks from idling longer than five minutes; idling is banned outright in school zones.
  • California Vehicle Code limits trucks with three or more axles, or trucks towing other vehicles, to a speed of 55 miles per hour (mph) on highways. This includes freeways, interstates, and urban areas. Trucks must also use designated lanes.
  • Clean Truck Check, also called the Heavy-Duty Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Program, requires non-gasoline diesel, alternative fuel, and hybrid trucks, buses, and other heavy-duty vehicles to undergo annual emissions testing. Heavy-duty vehicles may also be subject to random roadside inspections.
  • Tractor-Trailer Greenhouse Gas Regulation requires 53-foot or longer trailers and older heavy-duty tractors to have specific tire types and design features for improved efficiency. 

What Do the California Emissions Regulations Mean for Shippers?

The national freight market has reacted to the regulations — especially the 2023 passing of the New Diesel Truck Ban — with reduced capacity and coverage for California lanes. 

If you or your transportation provider have struggled to find coverage for your California freight in recent months, this is likely a major contributing factor.

And you’re not alone: Many shippers are already experiencing a frustrating struggle to find coverage for their California loads. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say this early on whether capacity will improve or worsen as compliance dates slowly approach.

The only thing we can say for certain is that the California freight market will continue to transform dramatically as a result of these changes.

While the New Diesel Truck Ban doesn’t take effect until 2036, its financial and operational impact is so great that companies and their fleets must plan for it now. 

Coupled with the ACT and Advanced Clean Fleet deadlines, every major trucking company and shipper in the state will have to make their decisions sooner rather than later: either comply with the regulations (and accept all the related expenses that will be required) or self-select out of doing business in California entirely.

Meanwhile, carriers and drivers are already refusing loads that will take them in and out of California, even if they are CARB-compliant. 

Between BIT inspections every 90 days, idling limits, random pull-over inspections, the prohibitive 55 mph speed limit, California fuel costs . . . well, who could blame drivers for not wanting the hassle of hauling in the Golden State? 

Trucks and passenger vehicles travel a California highway

Our bottom-line recommendation for shippers moving freight in California is to brace for supply chain sluggishness now and in the long term. Capacity will be unpredictable and spotty for California lanes as a result of the tightening regulations. 

Ultimately, California has drawn a line in the sand for its transportation providers — and where your carriers fall on either side of that line will determine your experience as a shipper. 

It’s always frustrating to have your business operations interrupted by factors out of your control. The good news is that there are things you and your transportation providers can do to protect your supply chain on the bumpy, emissions-free road ahead. 

What Can Shippers Do to Keep California Freight Moving?

Flexibility and communication are the key to so much in the transportation industry, and navigating the coverage issues caused by the California emissions regulations is no exception. 

As the market continues its transition — and, yes, as rates inevitably climb — shippers will need to be understanding of the challenges facing their transportation providers as they work to cover California freight. 

For shippers to have success in this tighter, greener California market, they’ll have to adjust their expectations for freight movement timelines. Carriers need more time to plan trucks, which requires shippers to provide more lead time on forthcoming shipments. 

Communication will have to happen earlier, with an understanding that there still may be delays if coverage is hard to come by. An openness to adjustments in plans (and, let’s face it, a Zen attitude) will go a long way when navigating capacity issues in and out of California from now on. 

Of course, the more a shipper is willing to spend, the more likely it is that your freight can move on your original timeline. 

If that’s not an option, lean on your carrier’s expertise and communicate with them about what you’re willing to budge on and what is a dealbreaker. With a bit of mutual respect, creativity, and preparedness, your California freight can and will continue to move despite the restrictive emissions regulations. 

Traffic traveling outside Los Angeles, CA

Speaking of preparedness — assuming the carriers currently hauling your California freight intend to continue operating in the state — your next step is to talk with them about their plans to achieve compliance. Their preparation now will impact  your success further down the line. 

If your current carriers don’t have a multi-stage compliance plan in place, it may be worth considering auditing your network and/or adding new providers who are taking a more proactive approach to California lanes. 

After all, these regulations are non-optional for anyone shipping in California, and failure to do so can result in serious financial and operational consequences. Your important freight should be handled by industry experts who take compliance seriously. 

How Are Your Carriers Preparing?

The effects of CARB compliance, ACT regulations, and the New Diesel Truck Ban  — among many other regulations that affect the entire transportation supply chain, drivers included  — have compounded, making it difficult for shippers and their providers to find coverage for California freight. 

Still, shippers shouldn’t despair. Proactive providers will see the writing on the wall and develop a comprehensive compliance plan for some or all of their fleet. For many, these plans have already been in progress for years. 

Moving forward, it will be critical for shippers and their providers to stay in close alignment with each other as they navigate the transforming California freight market. 

Flexibility and communication will be vital — and if your current network isn’t nimble or reliable enough to offer that, it may be time to seek out other providers who can.

Vetting all the carriers who haul your California freight may sound overwhelming, especially in an uncertain market. But it doesn’t have to be: All you need is a little help from a friend.

Enter ATS’s free Transportation Provider Scorecard. This downloadable guide provides the simple rubric and straightforward grading system you need to determine how your current providers are delivering you the level of partnership you need. 

After working through the scorecard, you’ll have a solid idea of what needs to change in your network to position you for success in the California market moving forward. 

Tags: Freight Brokerage, Flatbed Shipping, Dry Van Shipping, Market Update

Aaron Holmgren

Written by Aaron Holmgren

Aaron has been with ATS since 2014. He began in fleet operations support. He worked with his own fleet of drivers while also dispatching wind turbine blade drivers. Aaron spent a couple of years in the planning department working with both contractors and company drivers. He has been in the operations manager role since 2019.

Get the Latest Content Straight to Your Inbox!

We Have a Podcast! Find Us on Your Favorite App.

Apple Podcasts logoSpotify logoGoogle Podcasts logoAmazon Music logoAmazon Music logo

Beyond the Road Podcast logo

Recent Posts

Work With a Transportation Provider You Can Trust

You don't want your freight in just anyone's hands. Find a transportation provider that cares about your safety and your reputation. Learn how ATS can help.

Connect With an Expert