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

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...
United States Transport
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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.

In the early months of 2024, much of the attention in Washington focused on passing fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills to avoid a government shutdown. Lawmakers passed a short-term funding extension in late February, but lead appropriators in the House of Representatives and the Senate negotiated a package in early March to partially fund the government, including the Department of Transportation, through the rest of the 2024 fiscal year. Congress passed the remaining fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills on March 23 in a second package, avoiding a government shutdown altogether. The U.S. Department of Transportation continued to focus on opportunities to advance emerging transportation technologies, while other federal agencies signaled an interest in potential new regulations in this area.

White House

Biden-Harris Administration Takes Steps to Address National Security Risks Posed by Connected Autos

On February 29, 2024, President Biden announced that the Department of Commerce (Commerce) would be pursuing an investigation into the national security risks from "connected vehicles" that incorporate technology from countries of concern, including China, and to consider regulations to address those risks. The announcement suggests that connected vehicles are subject to vulnerabilities and threats if a foreign government were to gain access to these vehicles' systems or data. The White House convened a webinar on February 29, 2024 with representatives from the National Economic Council, National Security Council, and Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security, to discuss next steps for the Commerce-led investigation.

The Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) released an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) pursuant to the investigation on February 29, 2024. The ANPRM asks questions related to transactions involving information and communications technology and services (ICTS) that are designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by foreign countries of concern. The Commerce Department seeks public comment on the ANPRM to inform the potential development of regulations that are intended to secure and safeguard the ICTS supply chain for connected vehicles. Comments on the ANPRM are due April 30, 2024.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Grants for Electric Vehicle Charging

On January 18, 2024 the Biden-Harris administration announced that it awarded $148.8 million in grant funding to 24 applicants to repair or replace broken or non-operational EV charging ports. The awardees are located in 20 states, and recipients include 14 state departments of transportation and 10 local entities. These funds were awarded under the EV Charger Reliability and Accessibility Accelerator Program, which is funded by the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

This follows an announcement on January 11, 2024 that the administration had awarded $623 million in the first round of grants under the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) discretionary grant program to support the build-out of a national EV charging network. This funding will support 47 EV charging and alternative-fueling infrastructure projects in 22 states and Puerto Rico, including construction of approximately 7,500 EV charging ports. The CFI program was established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces Updates on Key AI Actions

On January 29, 2024, the Biden-Harris administration announced a 90-day update on progress toward meeting mandates laid out in President Biden's executive order on artificial intelligence (AI). Among the completed actions to date, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Nontraditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council completed an evaluation of the transportation sector's need for AI guidance and technical assistance. According to the announcement, this assessment, and those completed by other agencies and departments, will be the basis for continued federal action to ensure that the United States is ahead of the curve in integrating AI safely into vital aspects of society.

U.S. Department of Transportation

Joint Office of Energy and Transportation Releases National Zero-Emission Freight Corridor Strategy

On March 12, 2024, the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation (JOET), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), published the National Zero-Emission Freight Corridor Strategy (Strategy). The Strategy will guide the deployment of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty (M/HD) zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) charging and hydrogen fueling infrastructure from 2024 to 2040. The goal of the Strategy is to align public policy and investments by prioritizing, sequencing, and accelerating infrastructure along the National Highway Freight Network (NHFN) in four phases. These phases include (1) establishing priority hubs based on freight volumes (2024-2027); (2) connecting hubs along critical freight corridors (2027-2030); (3) expanding corridor connections initiating network development (2030-2035); and (4) achieving a national network by linking regional corridors for ubiquitous access (2035-2040)

In alignment with the Strategy, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced designations of National EV Freight Corridors along the NHFN and other key roadways. These designations are required by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and are a key component of the Biden-Harris administration's goal of building out a national charging network.

Meeting of the Advisory Committee on Underride Protection

On March 13, 2024, the Advisory Committee on Underride Protection (ACUP) held its second meeting of the year. The first was held on February 8, 2024. The purpose of ACUP is to provide advice and recommendations to the secretary of transportation on safety regulations to reduce underride crashes and fatalities relating to underride crashes. During this meeting the ACUP continued its discussion of rear underride crashes, prevention and mitigation technologies, and continued work on the Committee's recommendations to the secretary of transportation and the Committee's report to Congress. The ACUP has additional meetings scheduled for April 24 and May 22 of this year.

FHWA Publishes Request for Information on EV Charging Standards

On March 6, 2024, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published a request for information (RFI) on the J3400 connector and potential options for performance-based electric vehicle (EV) charging standards. On February 28, 2023, FHWA published a final rule establishing minimum standards and requirements for projects funded under the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, including for the connector type used on EV chargers. Subsequent to the publication of that rule, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) published a Technical Information Report (TIR) in December 2023 that provided information on the J3400 EV charging connector standard. FHWA is issuing this RFI to gather more information on the J3400 charging connector standard and to ensure the effective implementation of programs that are subject to the minimum standards and requirements.

The RFI is focused on (1) the expectations surrounding market availability for J3400 within EVs and EV chargers; (2) the technical compatibility of J3400 with existing regulations and safety considerations; (3) considerations regarding challenges and benefits of the implementation of J3400 at charging stations; (4) market demands for the continued availability of CCS and J1772 connectors; and (5) options for performance-based standards. Comments are due April 5, 2024.

USDOT Launches AI Initiative to Improve Transportation for Small Businesses

On February 1, 2024, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced that it launched a new initiative to aid small businesses in utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance transportation. According to the announcement, the Complete Streets AI Initiative is available through the Department's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. Per the announcement, the initiative is intended to create advanced decision-support tools for state, local, and Tribal transportation agencies. The announcement stated that the decision-support tools will assist in planning, designing, and implementing Complete Streets to prioritize safety, comfort, and accessibility for all users. According to the announcement, the program aligns with the Biden administration's Executive Order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of AI. In the announcement, USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg highlighted that the initiative enables small businesses and startups to leverage cutting-edge technologies, implement them in local communities, and enhance street safety.

Grants and Other Funding Opportunities

  • USDOT Announces Awards Under the SMART Grants Program. On March 14, 2024, USDOT announced that it was awarding over $500 million in awards under the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grants program. This is a two-phase grant program, with these awards focused on Planning and Prototyping. SMART grants are intended to leverage advances in technology to create safer, more efficient, and more innovative transportation systems. Many of the selected projects feature connected vehicle technology, and a project in Shreveport, Louisiana will use funding to develop curriculum and training for AV and EV transit operations in anticipation of piloting autonomous, first-and-last-mile microtransit shuttle service.
  • USDOT Announces Funding Under the Safe Streets and Roads for All Grant Program. On February 21, 2024, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the availability of funding under the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) grant program. SS4A grants are intended to support planning, infrastructure, behavioral, and operational initiatives to prevent fatalities on roads and streets involving all roadway users. Applications for Implementation Grants are open for cities, towns, counties, Tribal governments, and Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and are due May 16, 2024. The SS4A grant program was established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
  • Federal Transit Administration Announces Funding for Federal Clean Transit Buses. On February 8, 2024, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced the availability of $1.1 billion in funding for the Low- or No-Emission Bus program. This program is intended to help transit agencies buy or lease U.S.-built zero-emission and low-emission transit buses, along with charging equipment and supporting facilities. FTA will set aside 5% of each grant for zero-emission projects for workforce development and training. The low- or no-emission program was established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Other Agency Activity

Government Accountability Office Publishes Report on Federal Agency Challenges to Regulating Select Emerging Technologies

On January 25, 2024, the Government Accountability Office published a report (GAO-24-106122), "Selected Emerging Technologies Highlight the Need for Legislative Analysis and Enhanced Coordination."

The House Oversight and Accountability Committee previously directed the GAO to review how federal agencies regulate emerging technologies. This report examines, for selected agencies, (1) challenges and opportunities they report facing in regulating emerging technologies; (2) their collaboration and cooperation activities; and (3) lessons they can learn from other governments' experiences. The GAO focused on three agencies to review for their report, including the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). Within USDOT, GAO focused on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Aviation Administration. GAO identified priority technology areas to focus on at the selected agencies based on the rate of technology development and the potential for significant, yet not fully known, benefits and risks. GAO selected for review "highly autonomous motor vehicles" as the emerging technology regulated by NHTSA.

GAO makes three recommendations in the report, including that the secretary of transportation should provide the public with information on the Nontraditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council's completed and planned efforts to evaluate relevant emerging technologies. The GAO has stated that the office will provide a status update on this recommendation when it can confirm what actions the agency has taken in response.

Congress

Senators Urge DOT to Deploy Connected Vehicle Technology

On March 14, 2024, Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Todd Young (R-IN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Cynthia Lummis (R-WO), and Alex Padilla (D-CA) sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to express their support for cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology. The senators said that they support DOT's draft Plan to Accelerate Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) Deployment, released in October 2023, and called on DOT to elevate the deployment of C-V2X to a national priority. The senators stated in the letter that they believe a comprehensive deployment strategy for C-V2X should also be a feature of DOT's National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS). The senators cite the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's estimate that 42,795 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2022, adding that many of these deaths would now be avoidable because of advancements in roadway safety technologies like C-V2X.

The senators request responses from DOT on a series of questions related to the steps DOT is taking to advance the use and deployment of C-V2X technologies and to whether the Department was considering incorporating V2X into the updated New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) roadmap. The senators did not provide a deadline for the DOT response.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Considers Legislation to Secure American Communications Networks

On March 12, 2024, the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a markup to consider four pieces of legislation focused on securing U.S. communications networks from foreign adversaries. In a statement announcing the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH) stated that "homes, schools, hospitals, our financial system, and the military are all at risk as long as equipment sourced from our adversaries remains part of our communications infrastructure." The bills are broadly focused on technologies in the telecommunications sector. One of the bills introduced for consideration would amend the Secured and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 (Act), to add certain services produced or provided by DJI Technologies to the list of covered communications equipment or services. The Act creates a mechanism for preventing communications equipment or services that pose a national security risk from entering U.S. networks, and a program to remove any such equipment or services currently used in U.S. networks.

Fiscal Year 2024 Appropriations

On March 3, 2024, top negotiators in the House of Representatives and Senate released text for a multi-agency funding package. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is among the federal agencies that received funding in this package. The bill includes $106.4 billion in total budgetary resources for the USDOT, a slight $15.5 million hike above current levels. Congress was able to avoid a partial government shutdown, which would have occurred on March 1, by passing a short-term funding bill at the end of February. The House passed the multi-agency funding package on March 6, sending it to the Senate for consideration and passage ahead of the March 8 deadline. President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act on March 9, 2024. Congress passed a second package of appropriations bills on March 23, avoiding another partial shutdown and completing the fiscal year 2024 funding process.

Sen. Markey Letter to FTC Chair Khan Regarding Data Privacy Practices of Automakers

In a letter to Chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Lina Khan, dated February 27, 2024, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) called on the FTC to investigate the data privacy practices of auto manufacturers. In the letter Sen. Markey states that automakers are purportedly gathering substantial amounts of data on drivers, passengers, and individuals outside the vehicle with minimal oversight. The letter expresses concern about automakers facing minimal restrictions regarding the gathering, utilization, and dissemination of personal data without consumer knowledge. Sen. Markey urges the FTC to investigate the data practices of automakers and to carry out necessary enforcement actions to safeguard consumers. Sen. Markey also released an announcement regarding the letter, which highlighted Sen. Markey's previous letters to leading car manufacturers regarding their privacy protection practices and the car manufacturers' responses to Sen. Markey's inquiries. The announcement notes that the responses to Sen. Markey included the following car manufacturers: (1) BMW; (2) Ford; (3) General Motors; (4) Honda; (5) Hyundai; (6) Kia; (7) Mazda; (8) Mercedes-Benz; (9) Nissan; (10) Stellantis; (11) Subaru; (12) Tesla; (13) Toyota; and (14) Volkswagen.

Congress Pushes FAA Reauthorization Act

On March 6, 2024, Congress passed another short-term extension for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act. This extends FAA authorities through May 10, 2024. Congress first passed a short-term extension for the FAA in September, which was set to expire March 8. Progress on a full FAA reauthorization has been stalled since the summer because of disagreements about pilot retirement age and whether to expand the number of flights to and from certain airports.

States

With South Dakota recently enacting a law expressly authorizing driverless AV deployment, the number of states that expressly allow AV testing or deployment has risen to 34 plus the District of Columbia. This number may rise in the weeks to come, with legislation similar to the new South Dakota law under active consideration by the Kentucky legislature.

The 2024 state sessions have also seen legislatures introduce bills that would address AV operations in other ways. As of March 2024, eight states have introduced "driver-in" bills that would require a human observer to be physically present in an AV during testing or deployment. Half of these bills would apply to all AV operations, while the other half would apply only to heavy-duty AV operations. The bills currently are in different stages of the legislative process as many of the state legislative sessions are reaching their conclusion.

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

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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

United States Transport

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