Driverless cars are expected to hit the roads and be available for consumer purchase in just a few years’ time, with prototypes and test vehicles already being driven throughout the country. As driverless cars, or autonomous vehicles (AVs) have advanced, so have more questions about ethics, legality, and liability surfaced. Indeed, there have been many inquiries posed about who might be liable in an accident, and how AV programs will be written as it pertains to what the vehicles should do should an accident appear inevitable.
New Ethical and Legal Challenge Ahead
If the above issues weren’t enough, a new ethical and legal challenge has been brought into light: should an autonomous vehicle be designed to sacrifice a driver, a passenger, another driver/passenger in another vehicle, or a pedestrian should a crash be unavoidable? What’s more, would you be willing to get into an AV that is prepared to sacrifice your life?
Scientists Propose “Ethical Knob”
In order to understand the dilemma presented above, it is important to remember that when humans are responsible for operating motor vehicles, the actions that are taken are controlled by instinct (and one of the strongest of those instincts is no doubt self-preservation). Automatic vehicles’ actions, on the other hand, are controlled by pre-written codes. And while 94 percent of accidents today are caused by human error—which could be virtually eliminated with AVs—how vehicles should respond in the other six percent of accidents is a complicated matter.
One solution, as proposed by a group of scientists at the University of Bologna, is the installation of an “ethical knob.” The ethical knob would allow the owners of AVs to customize their vehicles to act in a manner ranging between preserving a driver’s/passenger’s life at all costs, or preserving the life/lives of the other party/parties. In the words of the scientists who proposed the idea, the knob would allow people to “choose between different settings corresponding to different moral approaches or principles.”
Blanket Solution for All
The ethical knob in itself creates a host of questions, and not just ethical ones. For example, if a person has their “ethical knob” turned to a setting designed to save their life, even if that means risking the lives of a group of pedestrians, would they have more liability for the accident based on this choice than would a person who had not selected such a setting? On the other hand, if a person had selected a setting to preserve the lives of the other people, but those people were injured nonetheless, would victims be able to recover compensation from the vehicle owner for their injuries?
Perhaps the best idea is a one-size-fits-all setting that is aimed at taking the most utilitarian and rational approach. However, it is hard to believe that a person would get into a car that would “rationally” decide to sacrifice their life if it meant saving five (or more) others’.
Anderson Hemmat - Representing You Now and in the Future
At the law offices of Anderson Hemmat, we are interested to see how the introduction of AVs will change the legal framework within which civil actions currently operate. We want to reassure car accident injury victims that we are on your side, prepared to fight for you now, and will be ready in the future, too.
If you are involved in a car crash, please contact us today. We offer free case evaluations, and always work on a contingency fee basis.