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.

Connected and emerging vehicle technologies have continued to be matters of high interest, both in Congress and across federal agencies. From a new rulemaking on critical automotive safety technology to a request for information on artificial intelligence (AI) in transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation has demonstrated an ongoing effort to explore how emerging technology can improve roadway safety. Electric vehicles have also been in the spotlight across the federal government, with new funding opportunities, roundtables, and hearings focused on all aspects of electrification.

White House

White House Roundtable on Zero-Emission Freight Infrastructure

On April 24, 2024, the White House Climate Policy Office hosted a stakeholder roundtable event to track progress and accelerate implementation of the recently released National Zero-Emission Freight Corridor Strategy. The event included close to 100 stakeholders from federal, state, and local government; non-government organizations; original equipment manufacturers for trucking; fleets; charging infrastructure developers; and others. The event featured a morning plenary session with several panel discussions, followed by five afternoon breakout sessions focused on ZEV freight strategy issues. The roundtable coincided with a notice of funding announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Heavy-Duty Vehicles Grant Program.

U.S. Department of Transportation

ARPA-I Issues RFI on Opportunities and Challenges of AI in Transportation

On May 3, 2024, the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Advanced Research Projects Agency – Infrastructure (ARPA-I) published a request for information (RFI) on "Opportunities and Challenges of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Transportation."

The RFI was published pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 14110 on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence, which was issued on October 30, 2023. The E.O. directed the USDOT to "promote the safe and responsible development and use of AI in the transportation sector, in consultation with relevant agencies," and specifically required ARPA-I to "explore the transportation-related opportunities and challenges of AI—including regarding software defined AI enhancements impacting autonomous mobility ecosystems."

The RFI provides a list of potential areas of AI research and development that may be eligible for USDOT funding, including autonomous mobility systems and vehicles on roads and rails, in the air, and on water.

The RFI also includes a series of questions on current AI applications in transportation, as well as on opportunities, challenges, and other considerations relating to the development and use of AI in transportation. ARPA-I notes it is interested in answers to questions that, as appropriate, reference USDOT's stated priorities, including safety, climate and sustainability, equity, economic strength and global competitiveness, and transformation. Comments are due July 2, 2024.

NHTSA Publishes Final Rule on AEB

On April 29, 2024 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a final rule on automatic emergency braking (AEB) and pedestrian AEB (PAEB) on light vehicles. The final rule creates a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS), FMVSS No. 127, for AEB and PAEB, and addresses comments submitted in response to NHTSA's earlier notice of proposed rulemaking.

The final rule specifies that an AEB system must detect and react to an imminent crash with both a lead vehicle or a pedestrian. The new standard will require vehicle manufacturers to make AEB and PAEB standard on all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks starting on September 1, 2029. The new standard will also require all cars to stop and avoid contact with a vehicle in front of them at speeds up to 62 mph and to detect pedestrians in both daylight and darkness. In addition, the standard will require the system to apply the brakes automatically up to 90 mph when a collision with a lead vehicle is imminent, and up to 45 mph when a pedestrian is detected. The rule specified test procedures and scenarios under which AEB and PAEB systems must perform to prevent a vehicle from impact with the lead vehicle or pedestrian. NHTSA will publish and seek comment on the laboratory test procedures the agency will use to assist in evaluating compliance with the FMVSS.

FMCSA Holds Annual Safety Research Forum

On April 24 and 25, 2024, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hosted its annual Safety Research Forum. The event featured presentations from the Analysis Division, the new Crash Data Analytics Division, the Applied Research Division, and the Advanced Technology Division. The Safety Research Forum focuses primarily on work being performed by FMCSA's Office of Research, with staff members presenting short summaries of some of their most interesting and important projects. Among the presentations given, the Advanced Technology Division provided its findings from the "Empirical ADAS Truck Crash Analyses Using Onboard Safety Monitoring Systems" study. USDOT worked with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to determine the safety benefits and efficacy of ADAS from real-world driving data. This study found lower crash rates on trucks with ADAS for both overall crashes and ADAS-specific crashes.

The Advanced Technology Division also presented on a forthcoming study, "ADS Safety Metrics Research." The stated aim of this study is to develop the database, analysis tools, and research results to determine the (1) evaluation criteria for an ADS driving performance test; (2) preliminary performance thresholds associated with safe driving; (3) the amount of driving data needed to confidently assess the driving performance of ADS-equipped CMV within their ODD; and (4) the practicality and limitations of this assessment methodology.

NHTSA Publishes NPRM on Electric Powertrain Integrity

On April 15, 2024, NHTSA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Electric Powertrain Integrity. In this NPRM, NHTSA is proposing to adopt a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS). The new FMVSS No. 305a would replace FMVSS No. 305, "Electric-powered vehicles: Electrolyte spillage and electrical shock protection," would apply to light and heavy vehicles, and would have performance and risk mitigation requirements for a vehicle's propulsion battery. FMVSS No. 305a would also require manufacturers to submit standardized emergency response information for inclusion on NHTSA's website, to assist first and second responders handling electric vehicles (EVs). NHTSA is proposing that the compliance date be two years from the date of publication (April 15, 2026). Comments on the NPRM are due June 14, 2024.

Grants and Other Funding Opportunities

FHWA Announces First Round of Reduction of Truck Emissions at Port Facilities Awards
On April 24, 2024, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced $148 million in grants to 11 states and Puerto Rico under the first round of the Reduction of Truck Emissions at Port Facilities Grant Program. Funding has been awarded to projects that are intended to reduce pollution in communities adjacent to ports. Specific truck emission reductions implemented include replacing diesel-powered trucks serving ports with zero- or low-emission electric or alternative fuel-powered trucks, constructing electric vehicle charging infrastructure, making port roadway access improvements, and studying technology enhancements to reduce truck emissions. 

Other Agency Activity

Treasury Department Publishes Final Rule on Clean Vehicle Credits

On May 6, 2024, the U.S Department of the Treasury published a final rule on the clean vehicle credits established by the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The final rule provides definitions and rules regarding taxpayer and vehicle eligibility for the credit for new clean vehicles and the previously owned clean vehicle credit. The rules also address the critical minerals and battery components requirements and Foreign Entity of Concern (or "excluded entity") restriction that were added to the clean vehicle credit by the IRA. Concurrently, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released final interpretive guidance related to the definition of a Foreign Entity of Concern for purposes of the 30D clean vehicle credit and the battery manufacturing grant program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This rule comes into effect on July 5, 2024.

EPA Publishes Greenhouse Gas – Phase 3 Final Rule

On April 22, 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule establishing new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for model year (MY) 2032 and later heavy-duty (HD) highway vehicles. The rule finalizes certain revised HD vehicle carbon dioxide (CO2) standards for MY 2027 and certain new HD vehicle CO2 standards for MYs 2028, 2029, 2030, 2031, and 2032. This rule also updates discrete elements of the Averaging Banking and Trading program, adds warranty requirements for batteries and other components of zero-emission vehicles, and requires customer-facing battery state-of-health monitors for plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles. EPA also finalized additional revisions, including clarifying and making editorial amendments to certain highway HD vehicle provisions and certain test procedures for HD engines. This rule comes into effect on June 21, 2024.


Fiscal Year 2025 Appropriations

On April 30 and May 2, 2024, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg testified before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees respectively regarding the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Fiscal Year 2025 budget requests.

During the House Committee hearing, Secretary Buttigieg answered a question from Representative John Rutherford (R-FL) about the potential security risks of connected vehicles built by the Chinese automakers operating in the United States. Representative Rutherford asked the secretary to explain what the USDOT is doing to ensure that data collected by these vehicles is stored locally. Secretary Buttigieg said that the safety implications of vehicle cybersecurity issues are a matter that the USDOT takes very seriously. He added that NHTSA was involved in establishing the AutoISAC, an industry data sharing partnership, which helps identify and respond to security risks and threats in the nation's vehicle fleet and noted that NHTSA has updated its cybersecurity best practices. Secretary Buttigieg said that, going forward, the USDOT needs to continue assessing how best to protect consumers without hindering the technical and technological developments that can make vehicles safer and more convenient.

During both the House and Senate hearings, Secretary Buttigieg also answered questions related to federal grant programs, aviation safety and the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, and the Key Bridge collapse.

FAA Reauthorization Act

On May 9, 2024, the Senate passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act (H.R. 3935) ahead of a May 10, 2024 deadline. The bill previously passed the House on July 20, 2023. The main contested issues preventing passage of the bill in the Senate concerned pilot retirement age and expansion of flight slots at Ronald Reagan Airport. The Senate also passed a short-term extension, which the House passed earlier in the week, to give the lower chamber more time to consider the final version of the FAA reauthorization if needed.

The FAA reauthorization bill appropriates $105 billion in funding for the FAA and $738 million for the National Transportation Safety Board for fiscal years 2024 through 2028. The bill includes provisions for research and development of innovative aviation technologies, particularly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Members of Congress Send Letters on Chinese Vehicles

On April 9, 2024, Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Frank Mrvan (D-IN), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Shri Thanedar (D-MI), Dan Kildee (D-MI), and André Carson (D-IN) sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, urging additional action to counter the "imminent danger" posed by the expansion of Chinese automotive exports that threaten the "vitality" of the U.S. automotive sector. The representatives expressed concern over threats to the United States's "long-standing leadership" in the automotive industry and potential overcapacity challenges as a result of the Chinese automotive industry's "exponential growth." The representatives also expressed support for the administration's recent effort to investigate risks associated with foreign adversarial, highly connected vehicle supply chains, saying that it is vital to addressing the immediate threat posed by Chinese automotive imports to U.S. critical infrastructure. The representatives called for an increase in tariffs on Chinese automobiles, expedited review of existing Section 301 tariffs on Chinese goods, and continued enforcement of U.S. trade agreements to ensure automobiles and parts produced by Chinese manufacturers are not reaping the benefits.

On April 11, 2024, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) sent a letter to President Biden warning that Chinese cars, made by companies controlled and subsidized by the Chinese Communist Party, present an existential threat to the American auto industry, and that tariffs alone are insufficient to stop a government-orchestrated attack on an entire sector of our economy. The letter also stated that allowing Chinese EVs on our roads could pose risks to our national security because the technology in EVs includes apps, sensors, and cameras. Senator Brown wrote that China should not have access to the data these technologies can collect—whether it be information about traffic patterns, critical infrastructure, or the lives of Americans.


House Highways and Transit Subcommittee Holds Heading on Fleet Electrification. On Tuesday, April 30, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Highways and Transit Subcommittee held a hearing, "It's Electric: A Review of Fleet Electrification Efforts." Witnesses included (1) Kim Okafor, general manager of Zero Emission Solutions, The Love's Family of Companies, on behalf of National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO), representing America's Travel Centers and Truckstops and SIGMA: America's Leading Fuel Marketers (SIGMA); (2) Kevin Coggin, executive director, Coast Transit Authority, on behalf of the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA); (3) Taki Darakos, vice president of Vehicle Maintenance and Fleet Services, PITT OHIO, on behalf of the American Trucking Associations (ATA); and (4) Nick Nigro, founder, Atlas Public Policy. Members of the subcommittee asked questions focused mainly on the overall cost of electrification, challenges that are impacting the transition to electric vehicle adoption, and the role of the federal government in the transition to fleet electrification. Lawmakers did not discuss any plans for forthcoming legislation and expressed differing views on the role of federal grant programs dedicated to electrification.



As state legislative sessions wind down—California is a notable exception—more states have joined the growing chorus that expressly enables AV deployment. The Kentucky legislature overrode a veto from Governor Andy Beshear to enact HB 7 and become the 25th state with an AV deployment statute. Alabama, which authorized the operation of "automated commercial motor vehicles" in 2019, enacted SB 226 to broadly permit AV deployment in the state.

California continues to be a hotbed of AV legislation, with the legislature actively considering four bills related to AV operations: AB 1777, AB 3061, AB 2286, and SB 915. Topics addressed in the bills include, but are not limited to, ticketing, data reporting, local control, and the role of "human safety operators" in heavy-duty vehicles. Bills must advance out of the house of origin by May 24, and the legislature will adjourn on August 31.

* The authors would like to thank Tess Brennan, Autonomous & Connected Mobility Analyst, for her assistance in writing this article.