Highly automated vehicles, not just fully autonomous but also levels 4 and 5, are still a long way from series approval for public road usage. Like any technological revolution, the vision of driverless vehicles not only has technical, but also ethical and legal dimensions. Do we want to entrust our lives to artificial intelligence (AI)?


Are we personally liable for accidents caused by our autonomous vehicles? Will I be allowed to turn off a highly automated system that could potentially prevent accidents? What happens when a machine has to decide who will be injured and who not in an unavoidable accident? What life and death decision-making is programmed into systems for unavoidable accident dilemmas? Put bluntly, in an unavoidable accident should my autonomous vehicle run over an elderly person or a kindergarten group? Is it better to crash into a two-seater small car than a crowded bus?

Cases of uncertainty not yet fully clarified by Ethics Commission

Some answers were given by the Ethics Commission on Automated and Connected Driving, appointed by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, in its final report in June 2017 – others are still awaiting answers today. In cases of doubt, such as “small car or bus”, “group” or “individual”, it says: ” General programming to reduce the number of personal injuries may be justifiable.” On the other hand, any programming that makes distinctions based on features such as age, gender, physical or mental constitution is strictly prohibited.

If it is not the programmers or artificial intelligence who decide whether the final autonomous steering maneuver prior to an inevitable collision is to the left, right or straight ahead, then who is it? Prof. Peter Dabrock, the Chair of the German Ethics Council, recently received sharp opposition to his idea “that in future, anyone who boards a driverless vehicle will have to enter their moral preferences into an app.” Dabrock then gave a specific example of what at first may have sounded shocking: “You would have to state beforehand how you would decide in such a situation. Parallel to obtaining a driving license, an ethics course should perhaps be compulsory before owning an autonomous vehicle.”


In future:

“anyone who boards a driverless vehicle will have to

enter their moral preferences into an app.”


Study sheds light on driver attitudes towards automated driving

Irrespective of an ethics course, “Although the absolute number of accidents and their severity will continue to go down, completely preventing accidents is not possible in the foreseeable future, especially in the transitional phase with a mixture of autonomous and conventional vehicles,” believes Dr. Frank Schierge, Senior Expert Market Research Mobility in Future Mobility Solutions at TÜV Rheinland. Reports about collisions involving driverless test vehicles in the USA made big headlines and apparently unsettled motorists. Is this uncertainty hindering or preventing the technical progress of highly developed driver assistance systems and autonomous technologies?

TÜV Rheinland is contributing to this discussion with its numerous studies and practical driving tests that shed light on many aspects of automated driving. For example, we investigated how today’s drivers judge the safety of autonomous vehicles. In short, the findings revealed that to trust autonomous vehicles in the future consumers need guaranteed data protection, vehicles secured against cyber-attacks, and freedom of choice between autonomous and self-driving. On data trust, we, as a data trustee intermediary, deliver all the prerequisites for data protection-compliant information sharing that protects the interests of all parties involved. On cyber security, we support manufacturers and suppliers with a wide range of consultancy and certification services. This leaves the final point: driver confidence in autonomous technology.

Next week we will continue with part 2 of this article!

 Then we’ll explore when and why assistance systems are experienced positively by drivers and how the willingness of drivers to buy them could be increased. We also want to know what you think about the ethical issues surrounding automated systems.

Author of the article
Smart Mobility Team

Smart Mobility Team

Editorial Team

The Smart Mobility Team is an editorial team that deals with all topics related to the mobility of the future.

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1 Comment

  1. Car Hamro

    Thanks for sharing very well written and worth reading this article.
    Wish to see more in the coming days.


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