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Feds want to regulate self-driving cars

Madasyn Czebiniak
| Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, 8:39 p.m.

The Obama administration is rolling out rules regarding self-driving vehicles, saying that the federal government and not the states should be in charge of regulating them, the president announced Monday.

Federal transportation officials would give “guidance to states on how to wisely regulate these new technologies, so that when a self-driving car crosses from Ohio into Pennsylvania, its passengers can be confident that other vehicles will be just as responsibly deployed and just as safe,” President Obama wrote in an op-ed piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Uber is the first company in the United States to offer use of its self-driving vehicles to the public, and Wednesday, the ride-sharing giant started offering free rides in self-driving Ford Fusions to customers in Pittsburgh. The cars have a person sitting in the driver's seat ready to handle situations beyond the abilities of the technology.

State transportation officials and legislators are working on regulations for self-driving vehicles. Few states have rules governing autonomous vehicles.

Federal officials have been struggling with how to capitalize on the technology's promised safety benefits — the cars can react faster than people but don't drink or get distracted — while making sure they are ready for widespread use. The new guidance represents their current thinking, which they hope will bring some order to what has been a chaotic rollout so far.

“For decades, Pittsburgh has driven advancements in automated vehicle technology, and we applaud the Obama administration for carefully considering the balance between encouraging innovation and protecting public safety,” Mayor Bill Peduto said. “We believe the new model policy included in the AV (automated vehicle) Guidance is an important step toward establishing responsibilities between the states and the U.S. Department of Transportation. We look forward to working with the Administration over the coming months as they solicit feedback and evolve the policy to keep pace with this rapidly emerging technology.”

Automated vehicles have the potential to save “tens of thousands of lives each year,” Obama wrote. Last year, 35,200 people died on roads, 94 percent as the result of human error or choice, he said.

The president said his administration is asking automakers to sign a 15-point safety checklist.

“And make no mistake: If a self-driving car isn't safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won't hesitate to protect the American public's safety,” he said.

Obama said Pittsburgh, which has pioneered the development of automated vehicles, will be the site of the first-ever White House Frontiers Conference on Oct. 13 that will focus on technology and innovation.

“What better place to hold (the conference) than Pittsburgh — a city that has harnessed innovation to redefine itself as a center for technology, health care and education.”

The Associated Press contributed. Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7822 or mczebiniak@tribweb.com.

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