Whom Should A Self-driving Car Protect In A Car Accident Essay Example

Imagine a trolley is speeding down a truck, on which five people are laying down a few kilometres away. They will die unless a lever is triggered, which would deviate the train to a side rail line, where another man is laying down. What would you do? This very common ethical question called ‘trolley problem’ encompasses the fundamental dilemma of killing five lives against one, from the point of view of an external viewer. But what if the trolley had its own brain and was able to decide for itself?

This paper focuses on the research question: “How should a self-driving car be programmed to behave in the case of an unavoidable accident in which a decision must be made between causing different damages to third parties or to itself?”.

Imagine the following situation: a self-driving car is approaching a pedestrian crossing, on which a man is about to walk. The vehicle detects the body and smoothly stops to let the person pass. At the same time, a man that is not paying attention to the road is driving a normal car behind the autonomous vehicle. The latter plays an important role in what is a possibly fatal situation. Indeed, having noticed the careless man behind, the self-driving car has the option of staying still and absorbing the impact or steering to the side of the road, resulting in the death of the pedestrian. What should the autonomous car do?

This modernized version of the trolley problem is what manufacturers of self-driving cars are trying to find an answer to, but without much success. The moral implications of making such a decision are so intricate that philosophy and reality have to be married by both engineering and philosophers such that a decision can be reached in a unanimous way.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, 2018) tried to solve this dilemma by performing the largest ethical survey ever, assessing answers of more than two million people from more than 230 countries. The study consisted of thirteen different scenarios of road crossing involving a self-driving car and both people and animals. Given the different situations, the participants were asked to simply indicate what they would do if they were the autonomous vehicle. Some of the results of this thought experiment outlined that people prefer saving a group as opposed to single individuals, or people over pets, or youngsters over elders. However, it is important to note that the outcomes partly depend also on the country of origin. This last find arises a further problem of programming self-driving cars in different parts of the world. For instance, Colombians prefer killing people of lower social status while Finns have no preferences between homeless people and executives (Forbes, 2018). If a self-driving software developer in Colombia has different priorities as opposed to one in Finland, this would result in global chaos and autonomous vehicles will never become an everyday reality. Hence, it is vital to agree, if possible, on a set of rules on how this kind of cars shall be developed.

Today it is recognized that establishing what type of decision and behaviour is morally permitted, prohibited, or obligatory in emergency situations, is a hard philosophical and ethical dilemma. In this paper different guidelines are provided with regards to the way to proceed in the process of programming the car by the automaker. In the situation analysed, the programmer is not acting by instinct because she or he is not directly involved in the event. Furthermore, it can be assumed that the car will not do mistakes, which is not necessarily the case, but it is a needed assumption to proceed with the analysis.The potential consumer who is interested in buying the car will expect it to be safe, even safer than normal cars, and to act in order to protect him or herself, the driver. In other words, the car company cannot produce a car which is willing to endanger the life of the driver or even to sacrifice him in order to save, according to its calculations, other human lives, due to some overall value maximization reasons. Indeed, hardly anybody would buy the car, no matter how small the chance of such an eventuality is.

There are not only economic reasons to support this point of view. The field of ethics provides several (Goodall, 2014) approaches regarding how to face this issue. Firstly, utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism where an action is considered good if it produces the maximum net cumulative benefit or utility (Goodall, 2014). In the collision situation previously described, a utilitarian vehicle would determine that a crash is preferable to the death of a pedestrian, even if it could imply several damages to the driver. Hence, according to this view, the car should stay in its place and absorb the impact. This outcome would be inadmissible to most and presents many critics. The main argument is the issue of incommensurability, which can be read as an epistemic or a conceptual problem (Santoni de Sio, 2017). According to the former, even if there may be reliable objective standards to decide which life is more valuable, individuals involved in these kinds of situations may not have the information or the capacity to make a proper and valid evaluation, and they may not be able to predict the long-term consequences of their actions. Based on the latter, it is impossible to compare the value of different lives. Indeed, since this importance is determined by subjective evaluations dependent by the context, there are no objective standards for making such comparisons.

In order to assigning a value to different people, we must take into account the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948). In this milestone document, the Article 2 states that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status […]” (United Nations, 1948). Hence, all people are equal and assigning different values to different people would violate this right. Clearly, assigning an economic value to people is problematic. This is the case also for defining a scale of values based on the severity of the injury that the car predicts will be achieved as a result of the accident, from simple distortion to death. As noted by Keeling (2018), “people disagree about whether utilitarianism, contractualism, or another set of principles, correctly describes which harms are morally permitted in cases where harm cannot be avoided”. On the same wavelength, Santoni de Sio believes that this disagreement will prevent us from reaching a definitive solution to the moral design problem of the self-driving cars (Santoni de Sio, 2017). Since every value considerations are to be considered not valid, as we will incur in the dilemma to respect or not to respect the human rights, an approach based on utilitarianism is not to be suggested when programming the self-driving car.

An alternative approach that can be considered is descriptive ethics, the study of individuals’ or groups’ beliefs about morality. Unlike the normative approach, according to this view any system of ethics based on society’s expressed beliefs must be declared as a distribution. In this case, vehicles should be programmed to respond to the distracted driver collision on the basis of probability, according to the range of society’s preferences. In using this approach, the MIT’s survey previously mentioned could be used to describe them. Even if this approach may be easier to support because it reflects society’s expressed beliefs, it may allow behaviours that, while socially accepted, could still be considered morally wrong. In particular, we reiterate once again the dilemma of whether to comply or not to the declaration of human rights.

Thirdly, deontology is a moral theory based on adherence to a set of rules, duties, or rights (Goodall, 2014). According to this approach, in the example under analysis, the automated vehicle should have the duty to take action in accordance with an universal law with which all the subjects involved agree. Thus, the self-driving car has to compare and balance the right to protect itself from the distracted driver and the rule of acting in accordance with, and because of, the categorical imperative. Bauhn argues that it is not clear how to compare them, and therefore the amount of risk on which a passenger in an automated vehicle can be exposed in order to protect another cannot be determined (Goodall, 2014). Even if this threshold is approximately less than the risk to the pedestrian, the precise level has not yet been defined. Because of these, this approach is not able to determine which decision should be made.

Finally, the doctrine of necessity regards emergency cases in which human agents have intentionally caused damages to life and property in order to avoid some other types of losses. According to this approach, “behaviours that are prima facie prohibited by criminal law may be permitted under exceptional circumstances” (Santoni de Sio, 2017). Hence, in this case it can be assumed that the human agent is the software developer, given that the car acts according to how it has been programmed.

There are two different situations in which necessity can be used as a defence: justifications and excuses (Santoni de Sio, 2017). The former occurs when the action, even if prohibited, is made in exceptional circumstances that eliminate its wrongness, while the latter occurs when the wrong action was done under conditions that eliminate the culpability, as in cases of non-culpable ignorance of relevant circumstances. On the other hand, if necessity was only an excuse based on the weakness of human will and motivation, then it could not be applied to any programmed behaviour of autonomous vehicles. Thus, the example taken into account can be seen as a justification case where the automated vehicle moves from its position in order to defend the driver, avoiding an impact which might cause relevant damages.

Allowing harm is not the same as doing harm. Indeed, if there was no difference, “there should be no objection to bombing innocent civilians where doing so will minimize the overall number of deaths in war” (Woollard, 2016). While consequentialism doesn’t agree with this, all the anti-consequentialists substantially agree (Woollard, 2016). Since a utilitarian view is hardly applicable here, as previously shown, allowing harm is preferable to doing it. Hence, deviating from the trajectory and not saving the pedestrian is morally justifiable.

Taking everything into due consideration, we believe that the car software developer should program the self-driving car in order to preserve the life of his or her driver, regardless the particularities of the event. This conclusion is firstly supported by the aforementioned economic reasons. Ethically speaking, we have shown that it is not possible to define a way to act on the bases of utilitarian or deontological argumentations, especially considering the variety of possible cases and situations. Then, we have shown that deviating from a straight trajectory, in order to avoid an impact and potential damages to the driver, is a morally acceptable solution with respect to the doctrine of necessity, as supported by the conclusions of Santoni de Sio (2017). Final considerations on the standing difference between allowing harm against doing harm have been presented as a support of our conclusive view.

In ‘Ethical Theory and Moral Practice’ published by Keeling in (2018), we have identified a particular set of situations in which where it is allowed not to follow the previous guidelines. Those situations are the ones in which a Restricted Pareto Principle (RPP) can be applied. The RPP is applicable in situations in which “there exist no alternative allocation of harm in which all affected parties are at least as well-off, and some affected party is strictly better off” (Keeling, 2018). However, such a situation is highly unlikely to be the case and extreme caution should be taken, as difficult and potentially unreliable and insubstantial value considerations are required in order to define situations in which an actor is at least ‘well-off’.

While our conclusion is in contrast with the aforementioned results provided by the survey of the MIT (2018), we believe it is the most reasonable view to pursue. With regards to this study, we showed how its results outcomes partly depend on the country of origin and might derive from misleading questions. In particular, we believe that people might change their idea as the case and their position in the case changes, thus invalidating the results of the survey.


  1. Forbes. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/noelsharkey/2018/11/08/should-a-self-driving-car-kill-its-passengers/#42268e6612ec.
  2. Keeling, G. (2018). Legal Necessity, Pareto Efficiency & Justified Killing in Autonomous Vehicle Collisions. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.
  3. MIT. (2018). Retrieved from http://news.mit.edu/2018/how-autonomous-vehicles-programmed-1024
  4. Santoni de Sio, F. (2017). Killing by Autonomous Vehicles and the Legal Doctrine of Necessity.
  5. United Nations. (1948). Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
  6. Woollard, F. (2016). Doing vs. Allowing Harm.
  7. Goodall, Noah J. (2014). Vehicle Automation and the Duty to Act

Smart Accident Detection Device

Hare Krushna, Nusrat Mohammad, Susmita Mundhe, Prof. Suhas Kothawale (Assistant Professor)Department of Computer EngineeringJSPM’s Imperial College of Engineering and Research, SPPU, Pune, , , ,


We live in a society where accidents happen daily and regularly due to which human lives will be lost cause they didn’t get the medical assistance at right time. In India more than one and a half lack persons die due to road accidents per year. In this paper we have made an attempt to develop Smart Accident Detection Device (SADD) which provides medical assistance in time and save the valuable human life. This device can be fitted into Vehicles like Bus, Car etc. Whenever any type of accident is detected through this will inform to the nearest Hospital as well as police station, then after identifying patient it will also inform to the Patient’s relatives, through which we can save.

Keywords: Accident Detection, Vibration Sensor, Impact Sensor, GPS, GSM, Finger Scanner, Microcontroller.


Car accidents happen daily and regularly these days due to which human lives will be lost. The major reason behind these accidents is carelessness and fault of the driver. The another reason behind this type of accident is our developing technology for example Mobile phones etc. While using a mobile phone many people get distracted, means they doesn’t give their 100 percent concentration on driving and miss traffic signals, because they are not really concentrating on driving. The process of dialing or answering the phone can make them lose control of the vehicle as well. According to the research, about 3000 + people died per year in road accidents every year while millions are injured or disabled each year. To solve this type of accident problem we have proposed a system by developing a Smart Accident Detection Device (SADD) which will be helpful for detecting an accidents and taking appropriate action on it by sending SMS to the nearest Hospital and Police Station by using the K-nn (K-Nearest Neighbors) Algorithm.

This Smart Accident Detection Device will detect automatically that whether the accident is happened or not and it’s also detect its seriousness. Seriousness of accident means that whether there is actually need of Medical assistance or not, cause it may happen that a minor accident is happened which can be avoidable.

Literature Survey

Several researchers have been introduced in the same field of research as the SADD system. Some of them are as follows.

The authors in implemented auto-detection unit system that immediately notifies an Emergency Contact with the help of GSM and also send location using GPS.

GPS will trace the accident place and GSM will send that location to the nearest hospital. It can use GSM modem to send the accident location to the Alert Service Center. An Automated System for Accident Detection, In 2] presented a methodology that accelerometer; gyroscope and force sensor measures the behavior of the car and inputs the data to the embedded processor where the signals are processed. The processor then, using the Bluetooth module, sends the calibrated data to the Smartphone. The fuzzy logic decision support – programmed in the mobile application – receives the processed data and makes a decision of detection or no detection. At detection, the Smartphone application, through the data network, sends a text message to a third party (emergency contact/public safety). The text message includes the GPS location, the time and the date of accident. In the 3] the authors have made an attempt to develop a car accident detection and communication which will inform the hospital system.

Current System

The current system which is available for detecting the accident is by using Smart Phones, which will detect that whether the accident is happen or not by using sensor which can take action as per their values varies randomly. Smartphone based accident detection application have both advantages and disadvantages. Creating a Smartphone based accident detection system is difficult or complicated, because phones can be dropped and the phones are not directly connected to the vehicle. The drawback of this type of system is that it sends the message to the alert Service Center or Registered mobile number. Then alert Service Center contact with nearest hospital by using accident location information. It makes delay.

Limitation of Current System

  1. When accident is detected the alert message sent to the Service Center than they contact with nearest hospital, it makes delay.
  2. Relatives of that particular patient didn’t get any information about that particular accident.
  3. Seriousness of accident cannot be determined using current method.
  4. Ambulance is not being able to reach the patient on time due to heavy traffic.

Proposed System

In this proposed system we are going to implement a Smart Accident Detection Device. It will detect an accident automatically and also its seriousness. Seriousness of accident means that whether there is actually need of Medical assistance or not, because it may happen that a minor accident is happened which can be avoidable. Whenever accident is happen this Smart Accident Detection Device will provides medical assistance in time and save the valuable human life.

In this Proposed system following concept are going to use.

  1. GPS and GSM.
  2. Vibration Sensor.
  3. Impact Sensor.
  4. Finger Scanner.

Proposed system works in a three module which are as follows:

  1. When the accident is happen the vibration sensor will detect it and send the SMS and location to the nearest hospital and police station using the GSM and GPS. One impact sensor is also fitted in the Vehicle which will detect the seriousness of accident.
  2. With the help of GPS location ambulance will reach at the accident location to get the patient, the finger of the patient is scanned by using Finger Scanner to identify the patient.
  3. This will provide the basic information of patient like Relatives contact number, blood group and health related which will be helpful for treatment. It will also send SMS to the Patient relatives once the patient is identified by using Finger scanner which will be fitted in ambulance, the message contains the accident location and Hospital name in which the patient is going to be admitted.
  4. In the proposed system we are going to create one application on which all the Hospitals and Police station have been registered. And also User has to register them on this website with basic information which will be useful at the time of treatment of patient.


This paper presented a SADD system-an automated system which will detect an accident and sent SMS to the nearest Hospital and Police station. This system provides medical assistance in time and save the valuable human life. This device can be fitted into Vehicles like Bus, Car.

GPS will provide the exact location of accident so the ambulance can reach to the patient as soon as possible.

In this system, we can also get some basic information by scanning the finger of the patient on Finger scanner which will give the basic information which is helpful for the patient treatment. Thus the proposed system will provide the better solution in case if an accident is detected.


  1. Md. Syedul Amin, Jubayer Jalil, M. B. I. Reaz ,“ Accident Detection and Reporting System using GPS, GPRS and GSM Technology.
  2. Asad Ali and Mohamad Eid “An Automated System for Accident Detection”.
  3. Nagarjuna R. Vatti,Prasanna Laksmi Vatti, Rambhau Vatti Chnadrshekhar Garde. “Smart road accident detection and Communication system”.
  4. Dr.D.Selvathi, P.Pavithra, T.Preethi, “Intelligent Transportation System for AccidentPrevention and Detection”.
  5. Osamu Takizawa, Masafumi Hosokawa, Ken’ichi Takanashi, Yasushi Hada, Akihiro Shibayama, Byeong-pyo Jeong,“Pinpointing the place of origin of a cellular phone emergency call using active RFID tags”.
  6. Lella Sai Krishna1 , Samineni Vijay, M.Pushpavalli , P.Sivagami,“ Advanced Automation Control in an Ambulance under Emergency Condition”.
  7. Dhruvesh H. Patel , Parth Sadatiya, Dhruvbhai K. Patel , Prasann Barot, “ IoT based Obligatory usage of Safety Equipment for Alcohol and Accident Detection”.
  8. Naji Taaib Said Al Wadhahi , Shaik Mazhar Hussain , Kamaluddin Mohammad Yosof, Shaik Ashfaq Hussain, Ajay Vikram Singh, “ Accidents Detection and Prevention System to reduce Traffic Hazards using IR Sensors”.
  9. Siddharth Tripathi, Uthsav Shetty, Asif Hasnain, Rohini Hallikar , “ Cloud Based Intelligent Traffic System to Implement Traffic Rules Violation Detection and Accident Detection Units”.

The Ethics If Preprogrammed Car Accidents

Problem Statement

Self-driving cars promise a much safer and more comfortable traffic environment, yet in the process they raise a lot of questions and dilemmas. As long as there are still unpredictable factors like non-autonomous vehicles, pedestrians in traffic or mechanical/electrical failures, self-driving cars will be vulnerable to crashes or other incidents. In some cases, scenarios will be formed in such a way that accidents are (almost) unavoidable. This raises some important ethical questions. For instance, should self-driving cars be programmed to minimize fatal accidents or injuries? Or should they protect their driver at all cost? In short, what ethics should be pursued in the decision-making among self-driving cars.

Problem Analysis

Many parties are involved in the decision-making process around self-driving cars, and especially their crash management. Various interests in self-driving cars exist, and each party has their own view on what these cars should look like to be in line with their own ideal, or to produce the most profit to each particular organization.

The first group, and simultaneously the one with the largest interest, is the industry itself. Manufacturers want their car to sell, and could take on various strategic positions in the debate. One could argue that a car should always take care of it’s driver, in terms of safety. At first, the car would sell really well based on this principle. After all, who would buy a car that doesn’t prioritize your safety. However, it would mean the car does everything to keep you safe, not regarding bystanders or other traffic. This could potentially put manufacturers in a bad daylight, as they would cause casualties among innocent people, as a service to their drivers.

On the other side are the users, or buyers. They face problems somewhat similar to those among manufacturers. Their own safety is something they value most, but they don’t want to be responsible for the casualties this choice would potentially cause. Also, it is hard from a driver’s point of view to make a decision on particular crash algorithms. You bring a vehicle to the road, and you have to decide which people to injure or kill in the event of a crash. Guilt would most certainly feel to be with the driver in such cases.

Buyers can also be rental companies, who buy the cars, and rent them to various users. Their case is similar to the industry’s. They want their cars to be used, thus want to satisfy customers, and be able to guarantee their safety.

Another party is the government. Their role in legislation makes them an important and influential vote. As they have created traffic laws as they are, they will have to accumulate with the future traffic situation, of which self-driving cars will be an important part. In general, their goal will be to protect society as a whole, and minimize the amount of harm done in total. The question here lies with how to weigh of certain casualties, and how to determine whether one death is better than ten major injuries. The general law of traffic explains that the main goal is to not obstruct or endanger fellow road-users. In this spirit, the car should sacrifice the driver first, as his car is the reason for collision.

Options for Action

There are various options to choose from regarding crash algorithms. The choice was made to discuss a shortlist of four potential outcomes, and evaluate those in terms of ethics.

The first option is to minimize the harm done in case of a crash. The system would analyze various maneuvers to determine the injuries or even deaths it would cause. In any case, it would first go for the least deaths, and consecutively for the least injuries. Looking objectively and from a society’s perspective, this would mean the least impact on society as a whole.

However, it would not consider any additional factors and would run over a child rather than a gang of criminals.

Another strategy might be to prioritize the passenger’s safety, the car would neglect all factors outside of the car. It would choose the safest way to go in order to save the driver. This could mean braking on the spot, and taking impact from the back, or steering to the side of the road, crossing the walkway. In this case this could mean an even bigger threat to, for example, the driver in the car behind the subject, or some pedestrians on the walkway.

Some parties might argue the following option; When your car is about to crash and there is a possibility to only harm the owner of the car without harming other people or other living beings that would be a viable option as it is not the other person’s problem that another car is crashing.

A last option would be to keep crashes random, imitating human reflexes, and thus the regular crash behaviour. This crash algorithm would avoid the moral dilemma by not having a programmed set of rules on which to operate. The car would mimic the seeming randomness that human drivers experience mid-crash.

There are also some rules that might have to be set to overrule the crash algorithms, or taken into account in any situation. For example, the ones causing an accident should always be the ones that are punished. If someone breaks the law by crossing the road illegally, their safety should have the lowest priority. Also, human life should be valued more than animal life. One could even say that young people are more valuable than elderly.

Ethical Evaluation


We intuitively believe it would be best to try and minimize harm while taking the adherence to the traffic laws of the involved people into consideration. To us, it seems most beneficial to get the number of fatal traffic accidents as low as possible. As mentioned before, this is in the objective perspective of society as a whole the best solution, as it has the least impact.

Someone breaking the traffic rules, however, should be penalized compared to others who do follow the rules. The minimal severity of the said offence is a point of discussion. In other words, how severe does a traffic offence have to be, for you to get penalized?

As a second option, we find that prioritizing outsider safety has our preference. Since the owner of the car is actively involved in the decision of using a self-driving car, while outsiders might not, it seems fairer to us to impose the risks of the said driving car onto the passengers.

As the third option, we believe that the car should save the passengers. The passengers bought a product and therefore that product should do what serves the user best. While seemingly selfish, this case does make people more eager to buy a self-driving car and therefore increases self-driving car adoption, and as a result of this adaptation, car crashes decrease.

We intuitively think randomizing of the car’s action to mimic human behaviour is the worst option. This scenario does avoid the ethical questions raised by having determined crash algorithms, but the recklessness of this approach is morally inappropriate, since we feel that new technologies that can possibly save lives should be embraced, instead of disregarded because they raise certain ethical dilemmas


Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that strives to maximize overall happiness. (White, 2015)

If we apply this ethical theory to the self-driving car crash, we would desire a crash algorithm that considers the different crash options it has and then makes a calculated decision on which one would cause the least sadness. Since all actions have consequences, and sometimes very unforeseen ones, it is important that the crash algorithm can take in as much information as (ethically) possible. This way as broad as possible image of the scenario can be formed on which the decision will be based.

We therefore first investigate which information is actually available to the crash algorithm.

The first layer, non-personal observation, is defined as information that can be observed directly by the car’s sensors, with personal traits of the people involved excluded. Examples would be the overall harm that is done (in other words, the presumed fatality/injury of the different scenarios) or the adherence to traffic rules by the different people involved.

The second layer, personal observation, is defined as exclusively personal information that can be observed directly by the car’s sensors. Examples would be the approximate age of the people involved or the sex of said people.

The third layer, personal database information, is defined as information that could be acquired from a database if the people involved are identified. One could, for example, think of China’s social credit system currently in development. (Persson, 2015) Such a system could inform the crash algorithm with an immense amount of personal data, for example, the wealth, profession, social circle, or even ethical preference of the people involved.

If we desire the happiest outcome of a certain crash scenario, it would be wise to consider all data possible, since this would lead to a more calculated decision. This is the way an act utilitarian would generally handle; act utilitarianism searches for the best possible result within a certain act. (Walter, 2011)

Rule utilitarianism, however, says that ‘the rightness or wrongness of a particular action is a function of the correctness of the rule of which it is an instance’. (Garner, 1967) In other words, not individual actions, but the rules in place must lead to the greatest good. We, therefore, find a counter-argument to the act utilitarian belief of using as much data as possible, since the personal observation and personal database information layers discriminate people involved. Implementing rules that discriminate go against the rule utilitarian belief that the rule should lead to the greatest good.

Interestingly, Bentham and Mill would seem to be divided on the topic. While Mill is a rule utilitarian, he does distinguish between qualities of pleasure (Mill, 1861). The extra information layers 2 and 3 offer could offer a better insight into the quality of the pleasure the involved people enjoy, but the discriminatory nature of these layers would contradict the rule utilitarianism. While Bentham is an act utilitarian who would not distinguish between pleasures (even though layer 2 and 3 offer him to do so).

If we compare the downsides of both utilitarian sub-theories, we see that act utilitarianism would lead to discriminatory rules being set in place, while rule utilitarianism would lead to slightly less informed, and therefore generally a less happy outcome. When considering that self-driving car crashes would be rare, the downside of the rule utilitarian approach shrinks, while it becomes questionable if having discriminatory rules in place for these rare occasions is a good trade-off. Furthermore, while the extra information of layers 2 and 3 can lead to a better decision at the moment, there is still a lot of uncertainty due to the immense amount of butterfly effect consequences there are.

We, therefore, find rule utilitarianism to be a more fitting ethical theory compared to act utilitarianism when considering car crashes. The utilitarian goal would in our opinion be best served if the rules set in place do not discriminate, while still trying to maximize happiness as much as possible.

Kantian Theory

Kantian ethics is a deontology based ethical theory based on moral universal rules or maxims as stated by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. According to Kantian theory, all decisions should be made according to a certain set of principles or maxims on which everyone agrees and people should only act on those maxims, but in those maxims, it is not acceptable to use a person as an instrument (Reference 5).

An example of this is an autonomous car driving at a pedestrian crossing or a concrete barrier with brake failure and there is no way somebody doesn’t get hurt, either the pedestrians at the crossing or the driver gets hurt. According to Kantian ethics, a rule has to be made on where to crash that satisfies everyone and doesn’t use people as an object or mere means.

  • Case 1-  If the car crashes into the concrete barrier block the driver might be injured or die.
  • Case 2 – The car crashes into the pedestrians and they might be injured or die.

Both cases contradict with Kantian ethics as no matter what, there will always be a possibility that someone gets hurt or injured as Kant stated that killing or injuring a person intentionally is morally wrong. This makes using Kantian ethics on a situation like this incredibly difficult and would only work if there was an option that didn’t use people as an object or as a mere means, such as damaging the car or another object without inflicting harm to a person.

Isaac Asimov wrote in his novel “Runaround” (Reference 6) the three laws of robots which are essentially universal rules for robots and a way to make sure that robots act in a way that would be safe for humans.

The upside of this ethical theory is that whatever rule is set is the same rule for everyone without exception. This makes sure everyone is treated equally and nobody receives special privileges. Every time this problem occurs the same action is taken and nobody is given an unjustified advantage. Also, Kantian ethics never allows to kill a person and thus would always choose to destroy an object or even harm a person if nothing else is possible.

The downside is that it will be very hard to create this universal law that takes all the goals and values of everyone that might be involved in this car crash. Killing a person always violates the values and goals of a person and when killing a person to save more lives (let’s say 4 people are in the car) uses a single person (to save the 4 people) as a mere means and thus also violates the second formulation as it might not be the person’s intention to die when walking across the pedestrian crossing. Furthermore, all rules that an autonomous car should follow has to be programmed by a human programmer. A programmer can never anticipate every possible situation that will ever occur. Artificial intelligence might become better at anticipating and avoiding these situations but crashes will always happen in one way or the other.

To conclude, Kantian ethics has a lot of strong points that are so good that it is (almost) impossible to achieve. Kantian ethics could be used as a general guideline, but a system solely based on this theory is not possible.


A point of criticism was the clear distinction between various groups of interest. In this case, the difference between users and drivers was unclear, and lead to the various

Looking at utilitarianism as well as Kantian theory, we can see that in both cases we conclude to minimize harm without discrimination. While the ethical reasoning behind them might be slightly different, the outcome of both reasonings is the same. Both ethical theories strive to avoid death first and foremost. If we compare this outcome to the intuitive one, we see that we here also agree that saving lives is most important. The ethical theories, however, do not account for people breaking traffic rules in a direct way.

If we raise the ethical dilemma of one person recklessly jumping onto the street, resulting in his death or injury of dozens of people, we consider it unethical to harm all those people. The Kantian theory would not allow for killing a person, and therefore rule utilitarianism would be most fitting to our intuition. Rule utilitarianism is then, therefore, our preferred choice.


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  2. Michael Persson, Marije Vlaskamp & Fokke Obbema (2015) ‘China rates its own citizens – including online behaviour’ Retrieved from: https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/china-rates-its-own-citizens-including-online-behaviour~b4c0ae0e/
  3. Mill, (1861)Utilitarianism
  4. Garner, Richard T.; Bernard Rosen (1967). Moral Philosophy: A Systematic Introduction to Normative Ethics and Meta-ethics. New York: Macmillan. p. 70. ISBN 0-02-340580-5.
  5. Jeffrey K. Gurney (2016) Crashing into the Unknown: An Examination of Crash-Optimization Algorithms Through the Two Lanes of Ethics and Law University of South Carolina School of Law
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