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President Obama to Talk Self-Driving Cars in State of the Union Speech

DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will talk about the prospects for self-driving cars in his final State of the Union address on Tuesday, according to government officials, the first time the president has used the annual speech to tackle an important issue facing the auto and technology industries.

Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told reporters on Tuesday that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will be in Detroit on Thursday “to amplify stuff that’s coming out of the State of the Union on self-driving cars.”

Foxx is expected to talk about efforts by the Obama administration to speed up the introduction of self-driving vehicles. There is not yet a clear legal framework governing their presence on U.S. roads, which is a concern for automakers and technology companies.

Alphabet Inc’s Google and others have called on regulators to clarify guidelines for introduction of autonomous driving technology, in part out of concern that a mishap in a self-driving car could result in costly litigation.

In December, Rosekind said he opposes a “patchwork” of state regulations on driverless cars and promised a “nimble, flexible” approach to writing new rules for them.

NHTSA has declined to take a position on California’s proposal to bar autonomous cars without a person in the driver’s seat ready to take over.

The California proposal is opposed by Google and other backers of driverless cars, but is consistent with NHTSA’s 2013 guidelines on the technology. Foxx has asked the NHTSA to review those guidelines to ensure they do not hold back innovations.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles proposed state regulations that would require all autonomous cars to have a steering wheel, throttle and brake pedals when operating on California’s public roads. A licensed driver would have to be in the driver’s seat ready to take over in the event something went wrong.

Google said last month the proposal “maintains the same old status quo and falls short on allowing this technology to reach its full potential, while excluding those who need to get around but cannot drive.”

Some of Google’s self-driving cars are governed by a federal regulation that limits them to 25 miles (40 km) per hour. California allows those cars to travel on roads where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Rigby)