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President Obama says self-driving cars could save tens of thousands of lives

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Ahead of his administration's release of new rules for self-driving cars tomorrow, President Obama has penned an op-ed largely in support of the technology for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Self-driving cars offer "safer, more accessible driving," the president says, as well as allowing for "less congested, less polluted roads." The technology could also change the lives of senior citizens and Americans with disabilities for whom driving is difficult or impossible, he argues, as well as reduce the number of people killed in traffic accidents.

"Too many people die on our roads."

Much of the support for self-driving vehicles has come from the private sector — particularly from companies exploring the technology — but the president's article is also largely positive about their potential. "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," President Obama writes. "Automated vehicles have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year."

But in order to do that, Obama says automated vehicle manufacturers should follow the rules of the road being presented by the US government tomorrow, as well as sign a new 15-point safety checklist. The government also plans to help states implement rules on a country-wide scale, "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." In addition to traffic dangers, the president addresses problems self-driving cars may cause off the road. The technology has the potential to both create new jobs, and make old jobs obsolete, making it "critical" that the government provides new resources and job training "to prepare every American for the good-paying jobs of tomorrow."

The rules will be flexible and designed to evolve

Even with these early provisions, the president says he favors a light touch with self-driving cars. "Regulation can go too far," he writes, stating that "government sometimes gets it wrong when it comes to rapidly changing technologies." The Federal Aviation Administration stands as a recent example of this — the government agency has faced criticism over the past few years for its slow reaction to the fast pace of advances in drone technology. In this case, however, Obama says the rules for self-diving cars will be "flexible and designed to evolve with new advances."

However difficult that pace of evolution has been for the US government to keep up with in the past, it isn't a reason to avoid making rules, Obama says. "There are always those who argue that government should stay out of free enterprise entirely," the president writes, arguing that regulations will actually engender new advances in the self-driving sector rather than stifle them. "The quickest way to slam the brakes on innovation," he says, "is for the public to lose confidence in the safety of new technologies."