The On-Ramp: An Autonomous and Connected Mobility Newsletter

11 min

Welcome to The On-Ramp, the newsletter from Venable's Autonomous and Connected Mobility team. The On-Ramp explores legal and policy developments in the world of autonomous vehicles, smart infrastructure, and emerging mobility technologies, from Capitol Hill to the U.S. Department of Transportation and beyond.

White House Activity

Biden Administration Takes Step Toward Establishing Standards for Public EV Charging

On June 27, 2023, the Biden administration announced additional steps taken in support of establishing a standard for electric vehicle (EV) chargers. In February 2023, the administration set new national standards for federally funded EV chargers, including a requirement that all chargers include Combined Charging System (CCS) connectors, which are used by the majority of automakers today, while also allowing the inclusion of other connecter types, such as the North American Charging Standard (NACS). The White House also announced that with the help of the Federal Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, SAE International is expediting plans to adopt the NACS connector as the new standard for EV chargers going forward. SAE's standardization process is the next step in establishing a consensus-based approach for maintaining NACS and validating its ability to meet performance and interoperability requirements.

Autonomous Vehicle Items in Spring 2023 Unified Regulatory Agenda

On June 13, the Biden administration released the Unified Regulatory Agenda for spring 2023, which included a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) related to autonomous vehicles (AVs). Published twice a year, the Agenda provides information on the regulations and rules federal government agencies plan to issue in the near and long term.

According to the Agenda, this new NPRM, Exemption and Demonstration Framework for Automated Driving Systems, will be published in October 2023, though that timing could change. This NPRM will propose a framework for NHTSA to review and assess Automated Driving System-equipped vehicles, AV operations, and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard exemption requests related to AVs, while also informing the agency's approach to future AV-related rulemaking and oversight. Other Agenda items of note include:

  • Temporary Exemption from Motor Vehicle Safety and Bumper Standards – This rulemaking would amend 49 CFR part 555 to modify the provisions regarding the effective date of exemptions granted under part 555 in response to a petition. Publication of the NPRM is anticipated this summer.
  • Framework for Automated Driving Systems Safety – This advanced NPRM requested comment on the development of a framework for ADS safety. NHTSA is currently analyzing comment.
  • Considerations for Telltales, Indicators, and Warnings in Vehicles with Automated Driving Systems – This notice seeks comments on amending the FMVSS to address the applicability and appropriateness of safety messaging in new vehicle designs without conventional driver controls. Publication of the NPRM is anticipated in January 2024.
  • Facilitating New Automated Driving System Vehicle Designs for Crash Avoidance Testing – This notice sought comment on crash avoidance test procedures to facilitate the safe introduction and certification of new vehicle designs equipped with automated driving systems. NHTSA is currently analyzing comments.
  • Safe Integration of Automated Driving Systems-Equipped Motor Vehicles – FMCSA is proposing to amend certain Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) to ensure the safe introduction of automated driving system (ADS)-equipped commercial motor vehicles onto U.S. roadways. Publication of the NPRM is anticipated for September 2023.

Congressional Activity

Congressional Focus on China

On June 21, 2023, the House Armed Services Committee held a markup of the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As part of the markup, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) filed an amendment related to autonomous vehicles (AVs), directing the Department of Defense to provide a briefing to the Armed Services Committee on the national security threats associated with AVs from certain countries of concern, including China, that are operating in the United States. The amendment was agreed to by voice vote during the markup. A similar amendment (S.Amdt.633 to S.2226) was introduced by Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) to the Senate version of the NDAA.

On June 20, 2023, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), chair of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, stated that he is considering potential legislation to prevent countries of concern from testing AVs on U.S. roads. His comments followed a meeting in Detroit between U.S. automakers and members of the Select Committee. Rep. Gallagher was joined in Detroit by Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Haley Stevens (D-MI), and John Moolenaar (R-MI). Rep. Gallagher, quoted in a press conference, said that one takeaway was the need to insist on AV testing reciprocity with other countries, including China.

FAA Reauthorization

On June 9, 2023, the House of Representatives released H.R. 3935, its version of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill. Introduced by Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), the bill was marked up by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 13 and 14, 2023. The bill includes numerous provisions for new and innovative technologies, such as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), including:

  • Support for more efficient testing to integrate UAS into the national airspace system.
  • Directing the FAA to propose operational regulations for, and regulations to establish the airworthiness of, UAS being operated beyond visual line of sight.
  • Establishing a drone infrastructure inspection grant program to facilitate the use of small UAS to support the efficient inspection, operation, construction, maintenance, modernization, and repair of critical infrastructure and improve worker safety.
  • Establishing an Unmanned and Autonomous Flight Advisory Committee.

The Senate version of the bill was released June 12, 2023. Markup of that bill by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is unlikely to be held ahead of the August recess.

Hearings and Nominations
  • Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen Testifies on Outbound Investment. On Tuesday, June 13, 2023, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen testified before a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee. During the hearing, Secretary Yellen was questioned on the Biden administration's potential outbound investment executive order (EO), which would place limits on U.S.-based entities' ability to invest in entities based in countries of concern. Representative Andy Barr (R-KY) mentioned that he is working on outbound investment legislation and asked Secretary Yellen if she would commit to pausing any outbound investment EO, pending Congress putting forward legislation. She answered that while that decision is up to the president, the Treasury Department would pursue conversations with Congress on the matter. Rep. David Scott (D-GA) also asked Secretary Yellen whether she thought the United States should prohibit investment in any company that may have a connection to, or is involved with, the military and surveillance apparatus of foreign countries of concern. She answered that the Treasury Department is looking into potential restrictions on such outbound investments.

U.S. Department of Transportation Activity

NHTSA Publishes Proposed Rulemakings on AEB

On July 6, 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) requiring Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) systems on heavy vehicles. The proposed rule would require AEB systems on vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds and is intended to address rear-end, rollover, and loss of control crashes. The rule would require that the AEB system prevent a vehicle from colliding with a lead vehicle. Most manufacturers would be required to comply with the rule within three years of the rule's final publication. Comments on the NPRM are due on September 5, 2023.

This NPRM follows, and is intended to compliment, a proposed rule recently published by NHTSA that would require AEB systems on passenger cars and light-duty trucks. That NPRM, published May 31, 2023, would require AEB and pedestrian AEB systems on new vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less. Comments on the passenger and light-duty AEB NPRM are due August 14, 2023.

NHTSA Releases First Projections of Traffic Fatalities in 2023

On June 21, 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released traffic fatality projections for the first quarter of 2023. NHTSA reported that 9,330 people died in motor vehicle crashes during that period, representing the fourth straight quarterly decline in traffic fatalities nationwide. This trend follows a spike in roadway fatalities that led to seven consecutive quarters of year-to-year fatality increases starting the third quarter of 2020. According to NHTSA, 32 states saw a decrease in traffic fatalities in Q1 2023, while 18 saw increases.

Relatedly, on June 22, 2023, the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a report on 2022 preliminary data on pedestrian traffic fatalities. GHSA projects that 7,508 pedestrians were killed in 2022, representing a 1% increase from 2021 and the highest number of pedestrian deaths on U.S. roads since 1981.

FMCSA Information Collection for Safety Impacts of Human-ADS Team Driving Applications

On June 7, 2023 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) posted a notice and request for comment on a proposed information collection request (ICR) titled "Safety Impacts of Human-Automated Driving System (ADS) Team Driving Applications." FMCSA is proposing a driving simulator study and accompanying questionnaires focused on team driving applications with a Level 4 commercial motor vehicle (CMV). The study will be used to assess the safety "benefits and disbenefits" of human-ADS team driving applications and support FMCSA's analysis of potential requests for relief from federal hours-of-service regulations.

The information collection identifies four use cases for human-ADS teaming:

  1. In-vehicle driver teams with an ADS CMV
  2. In-vehicle driver teams with a following ADS-equipped CMV
  3. In-vehicle driver teams with a remote human to monitor and control an ADS CMV
  4. Remote monitor/operate teaming with an ADS CMV

FMCSA is seeking comments on (1) whether the proposed collection is necessary for the performance of FMCSA's functions; (2) the accuracy of the estimated burden; (3) ways for FMCSA to enhance the quality, usefulness, and clarity of the collected information; and (4) ways that the burden could be minimized without reducing the quality of the collected information. Comments are due August 7, 2023.

Grants and Funding Opportunities
  • FTA Awards Grants for Zero-Emissions Transit Buses. On June 26, 2023 the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced nearly $1.7 billion in awards for transit projects in 46 states that will fund the purchase of more than 1,700 American-built buses, nearly half of which will be zero-emission models. The awards are funded in part by FTA's Low- and No-Emission (Low-No) Vehicle program, which helps transit agencies buy or lease American-built low- or zero-emission vehicles, upgrade facilities to accommodate low- or zero-emission vehicles, and purchase supporting equipment like chargers. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided $5.5 billion in funding for the Low-No program through FY26, with approximately $1.22 billion of that made available for FY23.
  • FTA Awards Grants for Transit Automation. On June 8, 2023 the FTA awarded $11.6 million in grants to six transit bus automation research projects aimed at improving safety, efficiency, and accessibility on the road and in bus maintenance yards. Selected projects include:
    • $2 million for the University of Alabama to test large transit bus automation technologies in simulations and the real world, to demonstrate cost-effectiveness and equity impacts
    • $1.2 million for the Colorado Department of Transportation to demonstrate Advanced Driver Assistance System technology in three retrofitted vehicles serving critical rural transit routes
    • $2 million for the Connecticut Department of Transportation to expand an existing FTA-sponsored transit automation program along the CTfastrak corridor.
    • $4.5 million for Virginia Tech to publicly demonstrate and collect data on bus safety technologies
    • $892,609 for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (FL) to retrofit a bus to operate autonomously to allow routine bus yard tasks to be performed more efficiently
    • $949,500 for the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (TX) to integrate vehicle automation into an advanced yard management system and complete heavy-duty vehicle demonstrations at its operations facility. The project includes a bus automation workforce analysis to address how yard automation may impact existing roles and create demand for new positions

State Activity

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) held a workshop, titled "Heavy-Duty Autonomous Vehicles Regulations," at the California Public Utilities Commission Auditorium on Friday, July 14. Members of the public were invited to participate in the workshop to discuss the development of regulations for the operation of autonomous heavy-duty vehicles in the state. California Vehicle Code Section 38750 requires the California DMV to adopt regulations establishing rules for the use of AVs on public roads, with or without the presence of a driver inside the vehicle. Current regulations exclude the testing and deployment of AVs with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 or more pounds.

The workshop was focused on discussion of regulatory concepts for AVs, with a particular focus on those that could be included in a future heavy-duty AV rulemaking. Concepts considered during the hearing included (1) heavy-duty AV operational restrictions; (2) phased AV permitting and data reporting; (3) inspection requirements; (4) AV interaction with law enforcement and emergency vehicles; and (5) anticipated economic impacts of a possible regulatory proposal.

The workshop was led by representatives from the DMV and the California Highway Patrol. Participants at the workshop included representatives from AV companies and trade associations, and members of the Teamsters Union and other labor organizations. At the conclusion of the workshop, representatives from the DMV stated that comments provided would be reviewed and taken into consideration as next steps are determined, including potential additional workshops.

* The authors would like to thank Tess Brennan, an Autonomous & Connected Mobility Analyst in Venable's Washington, DC office, for her assistance in writing this newsletter.