PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Uber's self-driving cars are on the streets of Pittsburgh, and a lot of people wonder, "Are they safe?"
The federal government now wants a hand in regulating the vehicles, and President Barack Obama even weighed in with an op-ed published Monday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The future arrived last week -- when Uber's self-driving cars began picking up folks in the city and taking them to their preset destinations. Their engineers say our roads will be the safer for it in the years ahead.
"About 1.3 million people a year die in car accidents. About 94 percent of those are human error related," Raffi Krikorian with Uber Advanced Technology said. "We really strongly feel that self-driving technology can make a dent in that statistic."
Now, the federal government wants to make sure. Tuesday, the Highway Traffic Safety Administration staked out oversight, introducing a litany of proposed regulations.
In an op-ed in the Post-Gazette, President Obama said the federal government supports the development of self-driving technology with needed safeguards. He wrote:
"Safer, more accessible driving. Less congested, less polluted roads. That's what harnessing technology for good can look like. But we have to get it right. Americans deserve to know they'll be safe today even as we develop and deploy the technologies of tomorrow."
To that end, the feds are asking Uber and other companies to sign a 15-point safety checklist that will ensure safe design, development and testing of the vehicles before they hit the road. While the federal government will need to approve all developing technologies, the aim is to be flexible and not to stifle innovation.
"By laying the markers we're laying, we're simultaneously allowing innovation to happen and introducing and raising the level of safety on these vehicles," Sec. Anthony Foxx of the U.S. Department of Transportation said.
In a statement, the industry says it welcomes federal oversight that would be standard across all 50 states, avoiding a patchwork of requirements at the state and local level. But like the cars themselves, the regulations governing them are a work in progress.
With Uber testing its first driverless cars in Pittsburgh, Gov. Tom Wolf says Pennsylvania has been ahead of the curve on this new technology, with a task force already in place here as well as proposed legislation that would allow for testing of the self-driving vehicles.
Gov. Wolf tells the KDKA Morning News, "As a state, [Pennsylvania] is not going to wait to see who has jurisdiction over this, we're going to make sure we try to do what we can to make sure people are safe. We'll work with the Feds, whatever they're doing, but we're not going to wait. We'll make sure that, here in Pennsylvania, we are safe."
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