Fall Update – Transportation Technology and Mobility Newsletter

12 min

Federal Agency News:

NHTSA Launches AV TEST Initiative

From June 15 to 18, 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) held three virtual events to launch the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing (AV TEST) Initiative. The events featured speakers from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and industry leaders who outlined the AV Test Initiative and discussed the safe development and testing of Automated Driving Systems (ADS).

The launch included the following three events:

  • AV Test Initiative Launch: The initial event featured remarks from several panelists, including Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation, and James Owens, Acting Administrator, NHTSA, regarding the AV Test Initiative. The Initiative will include an information sharing database housed in the DOT consisting of voluntarily shared information from state and local regulatory agencies, state legislatures, and autonomous vehicle stakeholders. The initial participants in the AV TEST Initiative include nine AV stakeholder companies and eight state government entities. The panelists reviewed the potential benefits of broad AV deployment, such as reduced human error in driving, and increased mobility for elderly and disabled communities. Panelists also discussed DOT actions to promote testing and deployment of AVs, including guidance documents and grant opportunities.
  • Opportunities and Challenges with Automated Driving Systems. Panelists included government officials and leaders from private-sector organizations involved in the use of ADS. The panelists discussed the following topics: (1) collaboration with government officials; (2) transparency and public trust; (3) testing; and (4) coronavirus and automated vehicles. The panel focused on the importance of an educated and informed public to the success of ADS and ADAS technology.
  • The Role of On-Road Testing in Automated Driving Systems Development and Safe Deployment. The event featured perspectives from leaders in industry, academia, and government regarding the role and history of on-road testing of AVs. The panelists discussed: (1) the history of AV testing; (2) the technological maturity of AVs; (3) the need for on-road AV testing; (4) the role of a safety driver during AV testing; and (5) collaboration in safety standards for AV testing.
NHTSA Holds AV TEST Initiative "State and Local Governments" Event

On July 16, 2020, the Department of Transportation (DOT) held an event entitled "State and Local Governments." During the event, panelists discussed the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing (AV TEST) Initiative and efforts to promote the safe testing and development of automated driving systems (ADS). The panelists expressed support for the AV TEST Initiative and emphasized the importance of informing the public about autonomous vehicle testing and deployment.

NHTSA Rolls Out AV TEST Initiative Online Tracking Tool

In several events from September 2 to 3, 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rolled out the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing Initiative (AV TEST) Initiative tracking tool.

The roll out events featured the following discussions:

  • AV TEST Initiative Test Tracking Tool Launch. The event featured remarks from Department of Transportation (DOT) officials and members of Congress as well as a demonstration of the test tracking tool. The tracking tool is composed of voluntary information shared by state and local government entities as well as stakeholder companies regarding the testing of AV technology.
  • Automated Driving Systems and Rural Safety. The event featured a panel discussion on the possibility of autonomous vehicle testing in rural areas. The most frequent issue raised by panelists was standardization of infrastructure across states to aid in the deployment of AVs. Panelists also pointed to broadband disparities as potential challenges for AV deployment in rural areas.
  • AV TEST as a Resource for the First Responder Community. This virtual event featured opening remarks and a panel discussion focused on AVs and the first responder community. First responders emphasized the importance of private companies sharing information and educating emergency personnel and law enforcement prior and during deployment of AVs.
USDOT Holds NETT Council Event

On July 23, 2020, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) held a Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technologies (NETT) Council event to announce the "Pathways to the Future of Transportation" guidance document. During the event, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced that the NETT Council has determined the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) holds the jurisdiction to set safety standards for hyperloop technology. Deputy Assistant Secretary Finch Fulton reiterated Secretary Chao's announcement, and added that hyperloop technology is eligible for the same grant programs within DOT as Maglev. These grant programs included the BUILD, INFRA, and CRISI programs. Mr. Fulton added that hyperloop technology would also be eligible for loan programs within DOT. In addition, Mr. Fulton emphasized that the DOT is not a "research and development agency" and would only be issuing grants or loans to projects that feature technology which is "market-ready." During a question and answer session, Mr. Fulton stated that DOT would be examining international standards for hyperloop and communicating with foreign transportation authorities.

The "Pathways to the Future of Transportation" document has been published in the Federal Register for public comment. Comments close on September 28, 2020.

USDOT Hosts Event to Prevent Child Heatstroke

On July 1, 2020, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine L. Chao and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Deputy Administrator James Owens announced the Prevent Hot Car Deaths campaign.

Secretary Chao expressed concern about child heatstroke deaths in cars, explaining that DOT was hosting the event to raise awareness about deaths resulting from heatstroke in vehicles. Secretary Chao outlined DOT actions to assist with public education on the danger of heatstroke in vehicles, which include raising the DOT budget for public campaigns to $3 million and initiating public education campaigns in 18 states. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) expressed support for the automotive industry's progress in implementing back seat sensors in vehicles to prevent children from being left in hot cars, and stated the industry is on track to make such sensor technology standard by 2024. John Bozzella, President and CEO of Alliance for Automotive Innovation, stated that the back-seat sensors are the beginning of innovation to protect children from heatstroke deaths in vehicles.

Federal Highway Administration Publishes Notice of Funding Opportunity for ATCMTD Grants

On Monday, July 6, 2020, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for $60 million in Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program (ATCMTD) grants, with a maximum individual grant amount of $12 million The grants are intended to develop model deployment sites for large scale installation and operation of advanced technologies that improve safety, efficiency, and system performance. Eligible applicants include, among others: (1) state departments of transportation; (2) local governments; (3) transit agencies; and (4) metropolitan planning organizations. Applications closed on August 31, 2020.


Rep. Latta (R-OH) Reintroduces SELF DRIVE Act

On September 23, 2020, Representative Bob Latta (R-OH) reintroduced the SELF DRIVE Act. Rep. Latta introduced similar legislation in 2017, which passed the House of Representatives on September 6, 2017. The bill would establish the Federal role in ensuring the safety of highly automated vehicles ("HAVs") relating to the design, construction, and performance of such vehicles. Among other things, the legislation would (1) establish federal preemption for laws or regulations regarding the design, construction, or performance of HAVs; (2) require the Secretary of Transportation to issue updated or new motor vehicle safety standards relating to HAVs; (3) require vehicle manufacturers to adhere to certain cybersecurity standards for HAVs; (4) require vehicle manufacturers to inform consumers of the capabilities and limitations of a vehicle's driving automation system; and (5) establish a Highly Automated Vehicle Advisory Council within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and awaits further action.

House of Representatives Passes the "Moving Forward Act"

On July 1, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2). The bill contains several provisions related to transportation technology and mobility. Among other things, the bill would:

  • Prohibit the use of federal funds for procurement of an automated vehicle to provide public transportation unless conditions enumerated in the bill are met;
  • Require the Secretary of Transportation to select at least one grant recipient within each of the following focus areas: (a) transit; (b) connected and automated vehicle technology; (c) non-motorized transportation; (d) developing metropolitan planning practices; (e) the surface transportation workforce; and (f) climate change mitigation;
  • Require the Secretary of Transportation to issue a grant to an institution of higher education engaged in research on the secondary impacts of highly automated vehicles to: (a) operate a national highly automated vehicle and mobility innovation clearinghouse; (b) collect, conduct, and fund research on the secondary impacts of highly automated vehicles and mobility innovation; (c) make such research available on a public website; and (d) conduct outreach and dissemination of the information to assist communities;
  • Require the Secretary of Transportation to initiate a study on the ability of automated vehicles to safely interact with other road users and create a working group to assist in the development of the study;
  • Require the Secretary of Transportation to establish a Nontraditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council, to: (a) identify and resolve jurisdictional or regulatory gaps or inconsistencies associated with nontraditional and emerging transportation technologies modes or projects; (b) coordinate the Department of Transportation's internal oversight of nontraditional and emerging transportation technologies, modes, or projects and engagement with external stakeholders; (c) develop and establish department-wide processes, solutions, and best practices for resolving issues regarding emerging transportation technologies; and

The bill has been received in the Senate and awaits further action.

Rep. Rush (D-IL) and Rep. McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) Introduce "American Competitiveness of a More Productive Emerging Economy Act"

On August 28, 2020, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced the "American Competitiveness of a More Productive Emerging Economy Act." The bill would require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Commerce to conduct studies and submit reports to Congress on the impact of artificial intelligence and other technologies on domestic businesses engaged in interstate commerce.

Specifically, the bill would require the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary), in coordination with the head of other appropriate agency heads, to complete a study on the impact of unmanned delivery services on domestic businesses.

The bill has been reported favorably by voice vote and awaits further action in the House of Representatives.

Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety Held "Safety on Our Roads: Overview of Traffic Safety and NHTSA Grant Programs"

On June 30, 2020, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety (Subcommittee) held a hearing entitled "Safety on Our Roads: Overview of Traffic Safety and NHTSA Grant Programs." The purpose of this hearing was to evaluate the effects of multiple NHTSA grant programs. Hearing participants discussed the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) program and public education related to and regulation of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and automated driving systems (ADS).

During the hearing, participants discussed the current state of DADSS technology, including the development of "breath and touch" alcohol detection in motor vehicles. John Saunders, the Region Three Representative from the Governors Highway Safety Association, stated that the technology could be widely deployed by 2025. During the discussion on the Public Education and Regulation of ADAS and ADS technologies, Senator Peters expressed concern about the lack of public education on such technologies. Witnesses agreed with the Senator Peters' concern and expressed support for a comprehensive regulatory framework for ADS.

Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on "The State of Transportation and Critical Infrastructure: Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic"

On June 3, 2020, the Senate Commerce Committee (Committee) convened a hearing entitled, "The State of Transportation and Critical Infrastructure: Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic." The hearing was held to discuss the role of autonomous vehicles (AVs) during the COVID-19 pandemic. While addressing topics related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on surface transportation, hearing participants discussed the role of autonomous vehicles in the COVID-19 pandemic response; a Federal Excise Tax (FET) holiday for new truck sales; potential legislation to fund infrastructure projects; and liability limitations for companies operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) stated the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has highlighted new innovations being used to respond to COVID-19. Chairman Wicker asked panelists how COVID-19 will affect innovative technology in the automotive industry going forward. In response, John Bozzella, President and CEO of Alliance for Automotive Innovation, replied that highly automated vehicles performing contactless delivery are already being demonstrated in locations where there are testing programs have been implemented, such as California. Mr. Bozella encouraged the Committee to create a federal framework for more widespread testing and deployment of highly automated vehicle systems with the condition that they are proven to be "as safe or safer" than the vehicles they are replacing.

Larry Willis, President of the Transportation and Trades Department at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, replied that in order to expand pilot programs and deployment of AVs, NHTSA must improve testing to ensure that AVs are safe. He explained that the National Transportation Safety Board also expressed concern that there is a lack of regulatory oversight over AVs. In addition, Mr. Willis expressed concern over potential job losses due to AVs replacing drivers.

State Legislative Update:

Enacted into Law:
  • North CarolinaSB 739 establishes parameters for the use of Personal Delivery Devices (PDD), including among other things: (1) the PDD is monitored by a human that can exercise remote control over the PDD; (2) the PDD does not unreasonably interfere with any vehicle or pedestrian; (3) the PDD does not transport hazardous materials; (4) the PDD does not exceed speeds of 10 miles per hour in pedestrian areas or 35 miles per hour on highways. The Commerce and Insurance Committee amended SB 739 on May 27, 2020 to include size and weight specification in the bill. The bill was passed on June 25, 2020.
  • Washington D.C.: On September 22, 2020, the D.C. Council unanimously passed B23-232, the Autonomous Vehicle Amendment Act of 2019. B23-232 is now with Mayor Muriel Bowser awaiting signature.
  • Michigan: SB 892 is actively being considered by the Michigan legislature. The bill previously regulated "personal delivery devices" (PDDs), but was recently substituted and now uses the term "automated delivery device" ("ADD") rather than "personal delivery device."
  • Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) recently released updated Autonomous Vehicle Testing Guidance. The guidance document, which is an updated version of the 2018 guidance, requires potential AV testers in Pennsylvania to submit an application to PennDOT prior to testing an AV. The document also outlines multiple other requirements including, among other things: (1) safety driver information; (2) safety and risk mitigation plan; (3) emergency service responder plan; (4) testing authorization process; (5) reporting requirements; (6) data sharing; (7) testing restrictions.
  • Vermont – On September 1, 2020, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) released the final draft of the AV Testing Guidance. The Vermont Traffic Committee will be conducting a hearing on Thursday, October 15, 2020 from 1:00- 3:00 PM to inform its decision on whether to approve the guidance.