Car Buying

Self-Driving Cars: Ethics Collide With Law

RELATED READING
RESEARCH BY MAKE
Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs
Acura cars, trucks and SUVs Alfa Romeo cars, trucks and SUVs AMC cars, trucks and SUVs Aston Martin cars, trucks and SUVs Audi cars, trucks and SUVs Bentley cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Bugatti cars, trucks and SUVs Buick cars, trucks and SUVs Cadillac cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Chrysler cars, trucks and SUVs Daewoo cars, trucks and SUVs Datsun cars, trucks and SUVs DeLorean cars, trucks and SUVs Dodge cars, trucks and SUVs Eagle cars, trucks and SUVs Ferrari cars, trucks and SUVs FIAT cars, trucks and SUVs Fisker cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Freightliner cars, trucks and SUVs Genesis cars, trucks and SUVs Geo cars, trucks and SUVs GMC cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs HUMMER cars, trucks and SUVs Hyundai cars, trucks and SUVs INFINITI cars, trucks and SUVs Isuzu cars, trucks and SUVs Jaguar cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Kia cars, trucks and SUVs Lamborghini cars, trucks and SUVs Land Rover cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Lincoln cars, trucks and SUVs Lotus cars, trucks and SUVs Maserati cars, trucks and SUVs Maybach cars, trucks and SUVs Mazda cars, trucks and SUVs McLaren cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs Mercury cars, trucks and SUVs MINI cars, trucks and SUVs Mitsubishi cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Oldsmobile cars, trucks and SUVs Plymouth cars, trucks and SUVs Pontiac cars, trucks and SUVs Porsche cars, trucks and SUVs RAM cars, trucks and SUVs Rolls-Royce cars, trucks and SUVs Saab cars, trucks and SUVs Saturn cars, trucks and SUVs Scion cars, trucks and SUVs smart cars, trucks and SUVs SRT cars, trucks and SUVs Subaru cars, trucks and SUVs Suzuki cars, trucks and SUVs Tesla cars, trucks and SUVs Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Volvo cars, trucks and SUVs Yugo cars, trucks and SUVs
RESEARCH BY STYLE
AWD/4WD
Commercial
Convertible
Coupe
Hatchback
Hybrid/Electric
Luxury
Sedan
SUV/Crossover
Truck
Van/Minivan
Wagon

author photo by Russ Heaps May 2016

Self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles (AVs), and human-controlled cars share a basic difference: AVs make preprogrammed decisions based on rules and regulations, while humans behind the wheel make choices based on a lifetime of driving experience.

Mr. Spock

Although artificial intelligence that actually learns from experience is in our future, that technology is nowhere near developed enough to control the early crop of self-driving cars. In the meantime, these computer-controlled cars will rely on programming to make split-second decisions on the road. Gathering data through a variety of means -- such as radar and laser sensors, cameras, satellites and car-to-car communication -- AVs then translate that data into actions based strictly on programming. Such programming will have narrow boundaries for what is safe and legal. Like Star Trek's Mr. Spock, genetically programmed to never lie or behave in any way not based on logic, AVs won't stray from the strictest interpretation of highway rules and regulations.

Captain Kirk

Human judgment is fallible. Most reality television shows are driven by the poor choices we humans make. But for better or worse, humans use experience to form the moral and ethical foundation on which they make their decisions. Most of us are willing to bend the rules a little to achieve a goal, especially if our experience tells us it's reasonably safe and morally acceptable to do so. Typically we weigh actions, consequences and probabilities before choosing to drive five miles an hour over the speed limit or slowly roll through a 4-way stop rather than coming to a complete stop at an intersection with no other traffic. There are lies, and then there are little white lies. Most of us believe lying is wrong, but telling a little white lie to spare someone's feelings is OK. It's a judgment call. Just as Captain Kirk relied on judgment to make decisions, humans don't base their decisions strictly on what is and isn't legal.

Ethical Versus Legal

As an AV zooms along a city street, a mother pushing a baby stroller steps from between two parked cars directly into the AV's path. In a split second, the AV sifts through all its data, determining that there is no time to stop. Its options are to hit the mother and baby or swerve into the path of oncoming traffic.

Ultimately, a human behind the wheel would face the same choice. The human driver, however, would view the choice of hitting a mother and child versus swerving into an oncoming car as an ethical decision. Either is wrong, but one might be less wrong than the other. A human's personal moral compass, based on a lifetime of experience, would lead to one choice or the other.

An AV has no moral compass -- only programming. In this instance, its programming would probably be at odds with itself. Programmed to do what's legal -- staying within its lane on its side of the road, as well as avoiding a collision with a pedestrian or another vehicle -- an AV might be totally incapable of a decision in this scenario. When both options violate programming, how will the computer react?

The Dilemma

If the AV did make a choice, on what would that choice be based? Can an AV be programmed to abandon core directives, such as operating legally and safely, to make an ethical decision between the lesser of two bad choices? Probably not -- at least not yet.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Self-Driving Cars: Ethics Collide With Law - Autotrader