Self-Driving Technology: Are We Ready?

Not long ago, self-driving cars seemed like technology that would only be found in science fiction movies. Our mindset quickly changed as companies like Google began to release prototypes...

Not long ago, self-driving cars seemed like technology that would only be found in science fiction movies. Our mindset quickly changed as companies like Google began to release prototypes of self-driving cars in attempt to make this technology available to the ordinary consumer. Self-driving cars could very well revolutionize transportation, but this technology does not come without its flaws. As this movement continues to gain momentum, it is crucial to acknowledge the inevitable ethical dilemmas associated with this new technology. There are many uncertainties pertaining to self-driving technology that could endanger public safety. Automotive laws and guidelines must be restored to accommodate this pivotal advancement in the automotive industry.

An estimated 94% of traffic fatalities are caused by human error. Self-driving cars will surely decrease this value, but it is unlikely that this technology will eliminate traffic accidents completely. This raises the concern of who would be liable in the event of a crash between a self-driven and human driven car. There are currently no policies pertaining to this scenario, which means that the manufacturer of the technology, the driver, or the maker of a component in the car could be liable. Volvo has claimed that they would “only accept liability for an accident if it was the result of a flaw in the car’s design”. It is also important to consider how a self-driven car should be programed to act in the event of an unavoidable accident. A self-driven car must consider whether it should “minimize the loss of life, even if it means sacrificing the occupants onboard”. Jean-Francois Bonnefon from the Toulouse School of Economics believes that there is no correct answer to this dilemma, and “public opinion will play a strong role”. Reducing the number of car related fatalities is a major force in the self-driving movement, but who would buy a car that is programmed to sacrifice the owner? With million of self-driving cars about to hit the road, this “algorithmic morality” has never been more important.

Self-driving technology is rapidly infiltrating the automotive industry, but there are still many uncertainties pertaining to this innovation. Anthony Foxx, secretary of the United States Department of Transportation, believes that diverse “market deployment strategies and pathways to automation” makes it difficult to regulate this technology. The International Transport Forum at the OECD is an intergovernmental organization that develops policies to improve transportation. This group is currently working towards developing policies that will help welcome the self-driving movement with relative ease.  These policies must be refined and proposed in the near future because companies like Tesla are ready to release self-driving technology to consumers. Tesla just announced that all vehicles produced in their factory are now capable of self-driving “at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver”. Regulators and developers need to work together during the initial stages of this era in order to limit the risks associated with this technology. The development and regulation of this technology should not be rushed because the perils could be catastrophic.




1. “All Tesla Cars Being Produced Now Have Full Self-Driving Hardware” Tesla, October 19 2016.

2. Bernard, James. “Why Self-Driving Cars Need To Be Programmed To Kill” Technology review, October 22nd 2015.

3. Herkewitz, William. “The Self-Driving Dilemma: Should Your Car Kill You To Save Others?” Popular Mechanics, June 23 2016.

4. Iozzio, Corinne. “Who Is Responsible When A Self Driving Car Crashes?” Scientific America, May 1st 2016.

5. Kang, Cecilia. “Self-Driving Cars Gain Powerful Ally: The Government” NY Times, September 19 2016.

6. Lowy, Joanne. “Driver Killed In Self-Driving Car Crash For The First Time” PBS, June 30th 2016.

7. Newcomb, Doug. “The Dilemma of Teaching Ethics to Self-Driving Cars”, Stanford University, October 9th 2016.



Student Author: Joshua F Huber, Biological Science major, University of Vermont

Aspiring dentist, thrill seeker, car enthusiast

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams, Ph.D., University of Vermont

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