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President Obama: Self-driving cars have the potential to change lives

President Barack Obama believes government regulation will help, rather than hinder, advances in self-driving cars. Ahead of today’s announcement of the first version of federal rules and regulations for autonomous vehicles, Obama wrote an op-ed titled “Self-driving, yes, but also safe,” in Monday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, as reported by The Verge.

“Right now, too many people die on our roads — 35,200 last year alone — with 94 percent of those the result of human error or choice,” Obama wrote. “Automated vehicles have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year.”

In addition to saving lives, Obama wrote that self-driving cars can also result in “less congested, less polluted roads.” Other benefits include increased transportation options for senior citizens and people with disabilities for whom driving is not an option.

But Obama also stresses the need for safety. “Americans deserve to know they’ll be safe today even as we develop and deploy the technologies of tomorrow.”

Related: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is setting the standard for becoming a tech hub

He wrote about the new rules being released for autonomous vehicles. He referred to them as “guidance that the manufacturers developing self-driving cars should follow to keep us safe. And we’re asking them to sign a 15-point safety checklist showing not just the government, but every interested American, how they’re doing it.”

Referring to consistency between states, Obama wrote of guidance provided to states on how they should regulate autonomous vehicles so people riding in self-driving cars will be assured that other vehicles on the road with the new technology will be as safe.

The president also wrote that government rules are necessary, and that if self-driving vehicles are not safe, the federal government will remove them from the roads. At the same time, however, he described the new rules as designed to evolve as the technology develops. “Regulation can go too far. Government sometimes gets it wrong when it comes to rapidly changing technologies. That’s why this new policy is flexible and designed to evolve with new advances.”

Obama mentioned a first-ever White House Frontiers Conference to focus on autonomous vehicles, which will be held on October 13. “And what better place to hold it than Pittsburgh — a city that has harnessed innovation to redefine itself as a center for technology, health care and education,” he wrote.

Pittsburgh is notable for its openness to self-driving vehicle testing, including support for Uber’s testing of self-driving rideshare cars.