The On-Ramp: An Autonomous, Connected, and Electric Mobility Newsletter

10 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, emerging mobility technologies, and electrification, from Capitol Hill to the U.S. Department of Transportation and beyond.

Congress has been largely consumed by appropriations debates this fall. The House and Senate were unable to pass their appropriations bills prior to the September 30, 2023 deadline, leading to the passage of a continuing resolution mere hours before time ran out, keeping the government funded and avoiding a shutdown. The measure extended government funding through November 17, 2023. Because of the prolonged period in which the House was without a Speaker, Congress will likely have to pass another continuing resolution before the November 17 deadline. Another outstanding task facing Congress this fall is the passage of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill. The bill stalled in the Senate prior to the August recess because of disagreements over pilot training requirements, and a temporary extension was passed with the appropriations continuing resolution. Congress now has until December 31, 2023 to pass the full five-year reauthorization bill.

White House Activity

President Biden Signs Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence

On October 30, 2023, President Biden signed an executive order (EO) on "Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence." The EO builds on previous Biden administration efforts related to artificial intelligence (AI) and is intended to create a federal government-wide approach to governing the "safe and responsible" development and use of AI technologies.

The EO includes a section focusing on the "safe and responsible development and use" of AI in the transportation sector, which directs the following:

  • The Secretary of Transportation and the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council to assess the need for information, technical assistance, and guidance regarding the use of AI in transportation. The Secretary and the NETT Council are also directed to:
    • Support existing and future initiatives to pilot transportation-related AI applications, in line with the U.S. Department of Transportation's (U.S. DOT) Innovation Principles;
    • Evaluate the outcome of such pilot programs to assess when the U.S. DOT has sufficient information to take regulatory actions and recommend such actions as appropriate; and
    • Establish a new U.S. DOT Cross-Modal Executive Working Group to coordinate applicable work across the U.S. DOT.
  • The Secretary of Transportation to direct the appropriate U.S. DOT Federal Advisory Committees to provide advice on the safe and responsible use of AI in transportation. This includes the Advanced Aviation Advisory Committee, the Transforming Transportation Advisory Committee, and the Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Advisory Committee.
  • The Advanced Research Projects Agency–Infrastructure (ARPA–I) is directed to explore transportation-related opportunities and challenges of AI, including "regarding software-defined AI enhancements impacting autonomous mobility ecosystems," and to prioritize grant allocations to those opportunities. As part of these actions, ARPA–I will solicit input via public consultation.

The EO addresses additional topics, including (1) New Standards for AI Safety and Security; (2) Protecting Americans' Privacy; (3) Advancing Civil Rights and Equity; (4) Standing Up for Consumers, Patients, and Students; (5) Supporting Workers; (6) Promoting Innovation and Competition; (7) Advance America Leadership Abroad; and (8) Ensuring Responsible and Effective Government Use of AI.

Prior to signing the EO, President Biden and Vice President Harris both gave brief remarks at a White House event. In her comments, Vice President Harris noted that the Biden administration felt a "moral, ethical, and societal duty" to ensure AI is developed and deployed in a way that protects the public from potential harm and ensures "everyone" can benefit from AI technologies. In his remarks, President Biden called AI "the most consequential technology of our time," highlighted elements of the EO intended to protect children's privacy and mental health, emphasized the need for AI earn the American people's trust, and noted that the EO would also touch on worker protections and a review of AI's implications for the labor market. The president closed by underscoring the need to preserve American leadership in both the development and regulation of AI going forward.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces the Designation of Regional Tech Hubs

On October 23, 2023, President Biden and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced the designation of 31 regional tech hubs through the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA). The Tech Hubs designation allows entities to compete for $75 million in implementation grant funding for projects focused on semiconductors, clean energy, critical minerals, artificial intelligence, and other advanced and innovative technologies. The program was authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act, signed by President Biden in August 2022. Among the designees is the Tulsa Hub for Equitable and Trustworthy Autonomy, whose proposal is focused on developing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and other autonomous systems.

Congressional Activity

Senate Confirms FAA Administrator

On October 24, 2023, the Senate voted unanimously to confirm Michael Whitaker as administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). President Biden nominated Mr. Whitaker for the role on September 7, 2023, and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held his nomination hearing on October 4, 2023. Mr. Whitaker has been appointed for a five-year term and succeeds Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg, who had been serving as the FAA acting administrator since June 2023. The FAA had been without a Senate-confirmed administrator since March 2022.

  • House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Hearing on AI. On October 18, 2023, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce held a hearing, "Safeguarding Data and Innovation: Setting the Foundation for the Use of Artificial Intelligence." This is the first in a series of AI-focused hearings the Committee plans to hold. The central discussion was on considerations for federal data privacy legislation. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) asked the witnesses to discuss how limits on data collection could hinder innovation, especially for "self-driving vehicles." Raffi Krikorian, chief technology officer, Emerson Collective, noted that companies need data to improve their algorithms, simulations, and systems and that there are ways to capture data and preserve privacy at the same time.
  • Transportation Secretary Testifies Before House Transportation Committee. On September 20, 2023, Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg testified at a hearing before the Full House Committee on Transportation. Topics discussed included (1) electric vehicles; (2) commercial motor vehicle safety; (3) implementation of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act projects; and (4) workforce considerations. He also discussed NHTSA's and FMCSA's ongoing work regarding studying and testing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).
  • House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Automated Commercial Motor Vehicles. On September 13, 2024, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit held a hearing, "The Future of Automated Commercial Motor Vehicles: Impacts on Society, the Supply Chain, and U.S. Economic Leadership." The purpose of the hearing was to highlight these and other matters related to autonomous commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). Member questions were focused on (1) impacts of autonomous CMVs on the workforce; (2) safety concerns; (3) privacy, data, and cybersecurity; (4) competition and U.S. leadership; and (5) implications for the supply chain. Witnesses included the executive director of the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, among others.

U.S. Department of Transportation Activity

FHWA Designates Additional Alternative Fuel Corridors

On October 19, 2023, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced the 2023 Round 7 Alternative Fuel Corridor (AFC) designations. The Round 7 designations include EV charging in 11 states, hydrogen in 13 states, compressed natural gas in one state, and propane in one state. The designation of AFCs is intended to support the installation of charging and fueling infrastructure at strategic locations along major national highways. The AFC designation has become increasingly important since the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, as eligibility for funding under the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program and Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Discretionary Grant Program is based on AFC designations.

Department of Transportation Releases Significant Rulemaking Report

On September 25, 2023, the U.S. DOT released its Significant Rulemaking Report (Report), which provides a summary of and the status for significant rulemakings that the U.S. DOT currently has pending or has issued during the current year. It does not provide a status update for all rules in the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which is released each spring and fall. Notable updates include:

  • Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways: Final Rule anticipated November 1, 2023
  • Safe Integration of Automated Driving Systems-Equipped Commercial Motor Vehicles: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking anticipated December 29, 2023
  • Fuel Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking anticipated December 2023
  • Considerations for Telltales, Indicators, and Warnings in Vehicles with Automated Driving Systems: Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking anticipated January 30, 2024
  • Rear Designated Seating Position Alert: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking anticipated February 2024
  • Heavy-Duty Vehicle Automatic Emergency Braking Systems: Final Rule anticipated April 30, 2024
NHTSA Estimates Traffic Fatalities Continued to Decline in First Half of 2023

On September 28, 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released early estimates of traffic fatalities for the first half of 2023. NHTSA's statistics show a projected 19,515 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2023, a 3.3% decrease as compared with fatalities in the first half of 2022. The projections also show an increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMTs) in the first half of 2023, resulting in an estimated fatality rate of 1.24 fatalities per 100 million VMTs.

Grants and Funding Opportunities
  • U.S. DOT Announces $82.6 million in SS4A. On October 27, 2023, the U.S. DOT announced that the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) grants had been awarded to 235 regional, local, and Tribal communities for planning and demonstration projects. This is the first of two announcements for this round of SS4A grants, the second of which is set to be announced later this year and will include funding to implement safety improvements. These SS4A awards are intended to help communities develop safety action plans, inform improvements along corridors with safety issues, and use "quick-build" strategies to test out safety features such as separated bike lines or curb extensions at intersections and more. Applications for the next round of SS4A grants are anticipated to open in February 2024.
  • FHWA Announces $40 Million Grant Opportunity for Connected Vehicle Technologies. On October 26, 2023, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for vehicle to everything (V2X) technology. The NOFO makes available up to $40 million in federal funding for fiscal year 2024 for eligible entities to deploy, operate, document, and showcase integrated, advanced roadway deployments featuring applications enabled by interoperable wireless connectivity among vehicles, mobile devices, and smart infrastructure. According to the NOFO, deployments should substantially and quantitatively improve system safety, enhance traveler mobility, improve efficiency of goods movement, mitigate environmental impacts, and address disparities in transportation equity. Applications are due January 17, 2024.

Other Federal Agency Activity

NIST Holds Workshop on the Standards and Performance Metrics for On-Road Automated Vehicles

On September 5-8, 2023, the National Institute for Standard and Technology (NIST) held a workshop regarding the standards and performance metrics for on-road automated vehicles (AVs). NIST stated that the purpose of the workshop was to bring together the AV community to update them on NIST's recent work in the area, provide a forum to provide feedback, and set a path forward to ensure that NIST's efforts in developing standards and performance metrics provide the greatest value to the community. Presentations focused on systems interaction, perception technologies, communications, artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, and infrastructure. Ann Carlson, acting administrator, NHTSA, provided the keynote address.

State Activity

California Governor Gavin Newsom Vetoes AB 316

On September 22, 2023, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed AB 316, which would have banned driverless testing and operations of heavy-duty autonomous vehicles. In his veto message, Governor Newsom stated that the Assembly Bill was unnecessary, as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was granted the proper authorities to regulate the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles by the California Legislature in 2012. Governor Newsom notes that autonomous vehicle technology is evolving and the DMV "remains committed to keeping [the] rules up to date to reflect its continued development in California." The Governor states that his administration remains open to working with the author, sponsors, and other stakeholders on the "right approach to safely test and deploy this evolving technology in California, while also addressing and mitigating any potential impacts to jobs."

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