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Should self-driving cars make ethical choices in crash situations?

On Behalf of | Nov 4, 2016 | Car Accidents

Now that driverless cars are on the road, unique questions arise – particularly regarding ethical choices. The biggest question on the table is this: Should a self-driving car run over pedestrians who happen to be in its path, or should it sacrifice itself and its passengers by swerving aside?

One of the problems with consigning these moral dilemmas to a car’s computer is that, according to a recent survey, people were enthusiastic about having a driverless car sacrifice its passengers to protect others, but they would not care to ride in such a vehicle. The answer to the question was purely informed by self-interest and not the greater good.

To Answer This Question Is To Enter A Minefield

The issue is going to have to be resolved by lawmakers and regulators. However, the matter is a minefield both ethically and legally.

In theory, self-driving cars will be much safer than those with human drivers, says a ZDNet article. The vehicles will not be subject to drunk or distracted driving and would not experience road rage. They would obey the traffic laws. Therefore, any accident that might happen would likely be caused by another party-either a pedestrian or a vehicle with a human driver. Computer error or some other mechanical error might cause some accidents, but these should be incredibly rare.

Should the passengers in a driverless car have to suffer and perhaps be maimed or killed because someone walked out into the middle of traffic without looking? What if some of the passengers are children, whose lives society tends to value more, and the pedestrian is an adult? Who dies, and who lives?

Is This Scenario Actually Likely To Occur?

Situations in which either the passengers in a car die or a pedestrian dies will likely be very rare. Self-driving cars should be equipped to notice pedestrians crossing the street against traffic in time to brake. Even if they have to swerve, the car might be damaged, but the safety systems every automobile is equipped with (such as seat belts and air bags) should protect the passengers in the event of a controlled crash.

But the odds are, when driverless cars become the norm, something like the question of who dies and who lives will occur. Currently, the driver of a car is not sanctioned if he or she is involved in a fatal accident of which he or she not at fault. Should the passenger of a self-driving car be punished by injury or death through no fault of his or her own?

These questions need answering before driverless cars become common on the road.

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