Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Caught Up in Ethical Dilemmas

An Adapted Consequentialist Perspective on Self-driving Vehicles

Vanessa Schäffner, University of Tübingen, Germany

Autonomous driving is one of the most controversially discussed issues of contemporary public interest and continues to keep various global players in the automobile as well as the supplier industry in suspense. Although being potentially able to reduce the number of severe road accidents, self-driving vehicles are unlikely to avoid crashes completely and will therefore face situations where harming someone cannot be avoided. This paper addresses the need for an investigation from the perspective of normative ethics regarding the programming of crash-optimisation algorithms: how should autonomous vehicles react in dilemma situations? Which ethical principles are suitable to guide their decisions and to morally justify them in the end? This paper contributes to the pertinent literature, which has identified various difficulties of applying classical utilitarianism in the context of self-driving vehicles, by suggesting a consequentialist approach that is adapted to the specific characteristics of dilemmatic driving scenarios. For this purpose, it explores the applicability of an adapted utilitarian view and analyses in what way it is suitable to compensate for the shortcomings of utilitarianism revealed in literature.