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

12 min

Welcome to The On-Ramp, the newsletter published by 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 returned to Washington on January 9, facing a busy legislative calendar for early 2024. Top priorities include enacting the outstanding FY23 appropriations bills to fund the government through September 2024. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was passed by Congress at the tail end of their 2023 calendar with bipartisan support for the bill in the House, but another major piece of legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill, remains on Congress's to-do list. A short-term bill was approved by Congress in December 2023, extending the FAA's authorization through March 8, 2024. Although the House passed a bill for the full five-year extension last summer, the Senate has been unable to come to an agreement on a handful of sticking points. Looking forward, artificial intelligence (AI) and the U.S. relationship with China will likely remain top legislative priorities for Congress in 2024.

White House Activity

First NEVI-Funded EV Charging Stations Come Online

On December 15, 2023, the Biden-Harris administration announced that New York and Ohio had opened the first electric vehicle (EV) charging stations funded through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) formula program. The NEVI program was established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 and provides $5 billion over five years to build out a national EV charging network. President Biden set a goal at the beginning of his term to build a national network of 500,000 public EV charging ports by 2030. According to the announcement, 28 states have issued solicitations for NEVI-funded projects.

White House Announces National Spectrum Strategy

On November 13, 2023, the White House announced a blueprint for modernizing U.S. spectrum policy. The National Spectrum Strategy (Strategy) is intended to guide decisions on how to allocate limited spectrum resources and improve spectrum management. The Strategy lays out four pillars for U.S. spectrum management:

  1. A Spectrum Pipeline to Ensure U.S. Leadership in Advanced and Emerging Technologies
    1. The National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) will conduct an in-depth two-year study of 2,786 megahertz of spectrum for potential repurposing (3.1-3.45 GHz, 5.03-5.091 GHz, 7.125-8.4 GHz, 18.1-18.6 GHz, and 37.0-37.6 GHz bands).
  2. Collaboration on Long-Term Planning to Support the Nation's Evolving Spectrum Needs
    1. The Biden administration plans to build on existing interagency agreements to coordinate spectrum decision making and expand private sector participation in that process.
  3. Unprecedented Spectrum Access and Management Through Technology Development
    1. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will develop a National Spectrum Research and Development Plan, while also encouraging private sector R&D to help develop more efficient use of the spectrum.
  4. Expanded Spectrum Expertise and Elevated National Awareness
    1. The Biden administration will create a National Spectrum Workforce Plan, while also working to educate policymakers at all levels on spectrum policy.

U.S. Department of Transportation Activity

DOT Launches Advisory Committee on Transportation Innovation

On December 29, 2023, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) launched the Transforming Transportation Advisory Committee (TTAC), which is intended to provide advice to DOT and the secretary of transportation about plans and approaches for transportation innovation. The Committee includes 27 members, each to serve a two-year team, representing experts from academia, think tanks, the public sector, labor, and industry. TTAC will focus on matters related to automation, cybersecurity, safety, accessibility, law, government, entrepreneurship, privacy, and equity, among others. The first TTAC meeting was held on January 18, 2024.

FHWA Final Rule on MUTCD Revisions

On December 19, 2023, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released a final rule on revisions to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The MUTCD is recognized as the national standard for traffic control devices used on all public roads, bikeways, or private roads open to public travel. This final rule revises the technical provisions to reflect advances in technology, safety, and operational practices; incorporate recent trends and innovations; and set the stage for the continued development of automated driving systems.

The updated version is the 11th MUTCD and includes a new section, Part 5, dedicated to "automated vehicles" (AVs). The purpose of this new part is to provide agencies with general considerations for vehicle automation as they assess their infrastructure needs, prepare for AV technologies, and support the safe integration of AVs. Chapter 5A covers the purpose and scope, the definition of terms, and other general information on design and use considerations for roadways intended to accommodate AVs operations. Chapter 5B, "Provisions for Traffic Control Devices," contains provisions beneficial to AV operations on signs, markings, traffic signals, and temporary traffic control, as well as traffic control at railroad and light rail transit grade crossings, and on bicycle facilities.

NHTSA Publishes Notice and Request for Comment on Approval for New Information Collection Request

On December 11, 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released for public inspection and comment a notice on a request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval of a new information collection request (ICR). The proposed information collection is a study of how human drivers interact with driving automation systems (DAS). The notice states that the information will support NHTSA's understanding of the potential safety challenges associated with human-DAS interactions. The research will involve human subjects using a driving simulator and will measure interactions between humans and DAS by (1) examining driving performance measures (such as takeover time and reaction time); (2) measuring understanding of the automation through questionnaires; (3) measuring trust in automation using questionnaires; and (4) measuring risk taking through questionnaires and a simple behavioral task on a computer. Comments on the ICR are due February 12, 2024.

NHTSA Publishes ANPRM on Advanced Impaired Driving Technology

On December 12, 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to gather the information necessary to develop a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS), which would require all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with advanced drunk and impaired driving prevention technology. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) directed NHTSA to issue a final rule establishing this new FMVSS by 2024. The ANPRM presents a summary of NHTSA's knowledge of alcohol's impact on driver performance and seeks comment on a variety of issues related to the state of development of driver impairment detection technologies. It also sets forth the research and technological advancements necessary to develop a FMVSS for driver impairment. In the ANPRM, NHTSA presents three regulatory options for how the agency might mitigate driver impairment: (1) blood alcohol content detection; (2) impairment detection (driver monitoring); or (3) a combination of the two.

NHTSA is seeking public response on a number of questions related to the state of development of driver impairment detection technologies and the research and technological advancements necessary to develop a FMVSS for driver impairment. Comments are due March 5, 2024.

NHTSA Withdraws Proposed FMVSS Requiring V2V Communications in New Light Vehicles

On November 17, 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) posted a notice withdrawing a 2017 proposed rule to create a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) requiring vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications in new light vehicles. NHTSA states that because of the advent of new V2V technologies, such as cellular-V2X and LTE C-V2X, as well as the Federal Communication Commission's 2020 rule approving the reallocation of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band, regulatory action to revise the previously proposed rule is not feasible at this time. NHTSA is instead withdrawing the NPRM and will "continue to monitor the development of V2V technology for possible future vehicle safety applications."

Meeting of the Advisory Committee on Underride Protection

On November 15, 2023, the Advisory Committee on Underride Protection (ACUP or Committee) held its second meeting, the first of which took place on May 25, 2023. The purpose of the ACUP is to provide advice and recommendations to the secretary of transportation on safety regulations to reduce crashes and fatalities relating to underride crashes. During this meeting, members presented on challenges to implementing underride guard requirements—such as weight limits, truck design, and existing infrastructure challenges like grade crossings—and opportunities to mitigate underride crashes by requiring impact guards and other vehicle technologies. During this meeting, the ACUP agreed on a set of requests for information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The ACUP requests focused on obtaining data and analysis from tests or studies NHTSA has already conducted on underride crashes. The next four ACUP meetings will be held February 8, March 13, April 24, and May 22, 2024.

Grants and Other Funding Opportunities
  • Rural AV Program NOFO. On December 14, 2023, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) published a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) under its Rural Autonomous Vehicle (RAV) Program. The announcement makes available $25 million for two awards to accredited nonprofit institutions of higher education, or a consortia thereof, for a six-year program to conduct research and to work with rural and Tribal communities to address the challenges of bringing the benefits of responsible integration of automated vehicles (AVs) and associated technologies for air and surface mobility to rural and Tribal communities. The focus of the first award will be on human-centered mobility of people in rural and Tribal communities, and the focus of the second award will be on movement of freight in rural and Tribal communities, for example, to support and enable automated freight and delivery vehicles serving rural areas. Letters of intent are due January 19, 2024, and applications are due March 13, 2024.
  • FY23 SMART Grants Update. On December 8, 2023, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that it received over 300 applications under the Stage 1 proposal program of the SMART Grants Program. The SMART program was established to provide grants to eligible public sector agencies to conduct demonstration projects focused on advanced smart community technologies and systems in order to improve transportation efficiency and safety. U.S. DOT anticipates announcing approximately 30 new Stage 1 awards in early 2024.

Congressional Activity

China Select Committee Recommendations

On December 12, 2023, the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party released, and held a business meeting to discuss, policy recommendations on the U.S. economic relationship with China. The report, "Reset, Prevent, Build: A Strategy to Win America's Economic Competition with the Chinese Communist Party," details three pillars, and 150 recommendations, for how the U.S. should approach a new strategy for economic and technological competition with the People's Republic of China (PRC): (1) reset the terms of the U.S. economic relationship with the PRC; (2) stem the flow of U.S. capital and technology fueling the PRC's military modernization and human rights abuses; and (3) invest in technological leadership and build collective economic resilience in concert with allies.

Under Pillar 3, the Committee recommends investing in American innovation and strategic sectors and creating tax incentives to encourage private U.S. investment. Specifically, the Committee recommends raising the cap on the production of vehicles under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard waivers to spur the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Specifically, the Committee recommends that Congress raise the current cap from 2,500 vehicles to 100,000 vehicles per year to "promote domestic capital investment required to build, equip, and maintain manufacturing plants, train workforces, secure supplier contracts, and develop advanced technologies, while ensuring safety."

During the business meeting, Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) praised the inclusion of the provisions in the report regarding AV technology. She stated that the U.S. needs to maintain dominance, "whether it be through testing or proliferation." She added that AVs would be "key to minimizing auto accident fatalities." The report was adopted by the Committee by voice vote and favorably reported to the House.

House Members Send Letter on PRC-Related Autonomous Vehicle Companies

On November 16, 2023, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), House Select Committee on China Chair Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) sent a bipartisan letter—signed by 14 members of Congress—to 10 "PRC-related" automotive companies raising concerns over their processing of data collected while testing autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the U.S. The members asked that the companies respond to various questions related to their data collection, use, storage, and protection practices, as well as whether they offer any services to Americans and the extent of their involvement with the People's Republic of China, the Chinese Communist Party, and the People's Liberation Army.

Hearings and Nominations

  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Holds Hearing on Oversight on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. On December 13, 2023, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit held a hearing, "Oversight of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: Modal Perspectives." The hearing featured witness testimony from (1) Carlos Monje, Undersecretary of Transportation for Policy, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, Department of Transportation (DOT); (2) Shailen Bhatt, Administrator, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), DOT; (3) Nuria Fernandez, Administrator, Federal Transit Authority (FTA), DOT; (4) Robin Hutcheson, Administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), DOT; and (5) Ann Carlson, Acting Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), DOT. Following opening statements, the Subcommittee members and witnesses discussed, among other topics, (1) lidar technology; (2) automatic emergency braking systems and other advanced driver assistance systems; (3) autonomous vehicle technology; and (4) oversight of the federal modal agencies.

Other Federal Agency Activity

DOE Announces Domestic Battery Manufacturing Notice of Funding Opportunity

On November 15, 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for up to $3.5 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) to boost domestic production of advanced batteries and battery materials nationwide. This funding opportunity is the second phase of $6 billion in total provided by the BIL. In this phase of the award, DOE is prioritizing new focus areas, including manufacturing capacity for non-light-duty transportation, next-generation technologies, and battery chemistries, in addition to lithium-based technologies. Concept papers, which are required, were due January 9, 2024. Full applications are due March 19, 2024.

State Activity

At the conclusion of the 2023 state legislative sessions, the number of states that expressly allow AV testing or deployment rose to 33 plus the District of Columbia. Of these jurisdictions, 23 states authorize driverless AV deployment, while 10 states plus the District of Columbia permit only AV testing. The 2023 state legislative sessions also saw a trend in the introduction of "driver-in" bills. These bills are collectively referred to as such because, while they vary in their specific applications, the bills would require a driver to be physically present in an AV during testing or deployment. In each state where a "driver-in" bill was introduced in 2023, it failed to become law. The start of the 2024 state legislative sessions has already seen this trend continue, with several states already introducing similar "driver-in" bills.

* The authors would like to thank Tess Brennan, an Analyst in the Autonomous & Connected Mobility Group, for her contributions to this newsletter.