Reports  |    |  June 1, 2017

Ethics Commission – Automated and Connected Driving

Report (extract) by the Ethics Commission appointed by the Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. 10 pages.


Throughout the world, mobility is becoming increasingly shaped by the digital revolution. The „automation“ of private transport operating in the public road environment is taken to mean technological driving aids that relieve the pressures on drivers, assist them or even replace them in part or in whole. The partial automation of driving is already standard equipment in new vehicles. Automated systems which, without human intervention, can autonomously change lanes, brake and steer are available or about to go into mass production. In both Germany and the US, there are test tracks on which highly automated vehicles can operate. For local public transport, driverless robot taxis or buses are being developed and trialled. Today, processors are already available or are being developed that are able, by means of appropriate sensors, to detect in real time the traffic situation in the immediate surroundings of a car, to determine the car‘s own position on appropriate mapping material and to dynamically plan and modify the car‘s route and adapt it to the traffic conditions. As the „perception“ of the vehicle‘s environment becomes increasingly perfected, there is likely to be an ever better differentiation of road users, obstacles and hazardous situations. This makes it likely that it will be possible to significantly enhance road safety. Indeed, it cannot be ruled out that at the end of this development there will be motor vehicles that are inherently safe, in other words will never be involved in an accident under any circumstances. Nevertheless, at the level of what is technologically possible today, and given the realities of heterogeneous and non-interlinked road traffic, it will not be possible to prevent accidents completely. This makes it essential that decisions be taken when programming the software of highly and fully automated driving systems.

The technological developments are forcing government and society to reflect on the emerging changes. The decision that has to be taken is whether the licensing of automated driving systems is ethically justifiable or possibly even imperative. If these systems are licensed – and it is already apparent that this is happening at international level – everything hinges on the conditions in which they are used and the way in which they are designed. At the fundamental level, it all comes down to the following question. How much dependence on technologically complex systems – which in the future will be based on artificial intelligence, possibly with machine learning capabilities – are we willing to accept in order to achieve, in return, more safety, mobility and convenience? What precautions need to be taken to ensure controllability, transparency and data autonomy? What technological development guidelines are required to ensure that we do not blur the contours of a human society that places individuals, their freedom of development, their physical and intellectual integrity and their entitlement to social respect at the heart of its legal regime?