Accidents with autonomous cars - the driver (not) first

The autonomous car should above all be friendly to the driver

A autonomous car should always protect the driver in the event of an accident. Christoph von Hugo, Head of Active Safety at Daimler, shares this view with the US magazine "Car and Driver". The Swabians are the first manufacturer to give a supposedly clear answer to one of the most important ethical problems with future autonomous cars: Should they protect their own occupants or the opponent from damage in the event of an unavoidable collision?

According to the magazine, von Hugo considers such dilemma situations to be very unlikely, since autonomous vehicles will very rarely be involved in accidents. Should a collision nevertheless occur, the greatest chance for the vehicles would be to save the driver's life. Even if you sacrifice the car, in such a complex situation you don't know what will happen to the people you originally saved, according to Hugo. Due to the consequences of an uncontrolled evasion maneuver, the rescued could still die afterwards.

When asked, however, Daimler expresses itself much more cautiously and points out that a statement is misrepresented here. For the company, it is clear that neither programmers nor automated systems are to be weighed up over human lives, such a weigh-up is also not permitted in Germany or in other countries. The focus of the development is also precisely on completely avoiding such dilemma situations. Therefore, no decision has been made in favor of the vehicle occupants. Rather, as a manufacturer, one would implement what the respective legal framework and social acceptance allow.

The discussion about the morale of autonomous cars is currently picking up speed. Since the end of September, among other things, an ethics commission from the federal government headed by former constitutional judge Udo Di Fabio has been dealing with questions relating to automated driving systems. Among other things, the committee wants to set guidelines for the use of autopilots, which focus on people in their physical integrity and as a self-determined personality. There is also a need to clarify a fundamental question. So far it is also unclear who would be responsible for programming a car's decision-making process. In addition to the manufacturer, this could be the driver or the legislator.

Ethical questions are of great relevance to autonomous cars, even if they may seem constructed at first glance. Even if autonomous cars are extremely rarely faced with life and death decisions, the likelihood of such a case increases with the number of vehicles. And in the long term it will be in the tens of millions worldwide.
(Holger Holzer / SP-X)

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