Driverless cars are now legal in America, but what happens when your car has to decide whether to save your life or others’ in an accident? Recently, a survey was taken to find out what Americans thought should happen.
The survey, conducted by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) polled 196 participants. The survey asked, “Should your robot car sacrifice your life if it will save more lives?”
The decision was split. Around one third chose each of three options: Yes, the car should prioritize its drivers life; No, the car should be programmed to save the maximum number of lives; and that choice should be up to the owner of the car, who could pre-program the vehicle as he or she sees fit.
Beyond the ethical choice, other factors have been raised as important to the question of what a car should do in such an emergency. Cars are considered to be not designed to protect the lives of anyone except those within the car, so some commenters have said that each car can protect its own occupants best.
Other questions surrounding the advent of automated cars include how the law would relate to such cars in accidents. Can automated cars be held criminally liable? Are computized ethics enough, when most people believe good judgment can compel people to act illegally? How can driverless cars be insured? What are the tests for competancy to drive on the road? Should separate roads be set aside for driverless cars? How will the decision to use driverless cars be made?
Chinka Mui, the author of New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups, has commented on some of these questions. “Insurance companies make money on their premiums, and over time they’ll be fighting over a smaller pool,” said Mui. “That will have a massive impact from a business-model standpoint, but it will also have an impact on hundreds of thousands of jobs for people sitting in claims centres, answering phones.”
Currently, driverless cars are legal in five US States. Most recently, California Governor Jerry Brown signed senate bill SB1298 into state law on May 22, providing for driverless cars on the states roads.
The legislation will allow driverless cars to be licenced in California beginning September.
But driverless cars may currently be legal anyway, since they are not yet legislated against. “Everything is permitted unless prohibited,” commented Stanford law fellow Bryant Walker Smith. Since there are no laws against driverless cars, Smith has argued, the tests of Google’s and others on America’s highways were most likely not illegal, and neither is any other driverless activity at the moment.