Ethicality Behind the Implementation of Autonomous Vehicles

By: Anirudh C., Rithik T. , and JaeJun P.

Car Design

How Autonomous Vehicles Work

Driving works very differently in autonomous driving than in normal driving. Although there is always the need for a backup driver in case of emergency situations, these cars will be completely autonomous with no continuous handling of a human driver. Autonomous vehicles need to do three things: perceive, think, and act. The car perceives through three main sensors: camera, radar, and lidar.


Lidar is a type of radar using laser light to scan the environment and helps the car understand how an object will react. It is also a method for determining ranges by targeting an object or a surface with a laser and measuring the time for the reflected light to return to the receiver.


Radar is more like the bigger picture, sending and detecting radio waves from a distance in low resolution. It is also a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the distance, angle, and radial velocity of objects relative to the site. 



Cameras are the best for close-range, with high-resolution pictures for a more accurate view for cars. These image sensors automatically detect objects, classify them, and determine the distances between them and the vehicle


Growth of Autonomous Vehicles

The first autonomous vehicles was at the General Ford Expo in 1939, using magnetic railing. However, now, engineers have created a much better version of autonomous vehicles, and they are projected to become the future of transportation. Investment in the area is very heavy, as shown by the  graph. 

Driving Errors

As shown in the graph, nearly 70% of all car accidents are directly caused by human error. The entire point of the implementation of Autonomous vehicles is to make driving more safe and convenient by removing drivers from the driving process.

Electric Car



Autonomous driving is all about removing human error by removing humans from the equation; which is not always the best thing. In fact, according to the Economics and Statistics Administration in 2015, 3.8 million driving-related jobs will be negatively affected by automation. For the majority of truck and taxi drivers, driving is the only job that makes a decent sum of money for them, and they will be left jobless. Is it ethical to leave so many to poverty just for the sake of self-driving cars?

Societal Implementation

​On March 18, 2018, 49 year old Elaine Herzberg was hit and killed by a self-driving Uber car while jaywalking with her bicycle outside of a crosswalk. To counter this, car companies are now asking pedestrians and cyclists to wear R.F.I.D, or Radio Frequency Identification tags, so cars can identify pedestrians on the road using radio waves. However, this ignores exactly what self-driving cars are meant to solve: human error. By asking individuals to take responsibility for their own safety, the companies are not considering the possibility of people forgetting or losing their tags, putting more and more human lives in danger.

Road Safety and Human Lives

when implemented correctly, autonomous driving can save tens of thousands of lives each year. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association reported in 2015 that 94% of all fatal accidents were caused by human error. Now, since the National Security Council reported approximately 38,800 traffic deaths in 2019, a reduction of 94% would have saved up to 36,000 lives.

Environment & Gas

Not only will autonomous vehicles save lives, but it will benefit the environment as well. According to a study conducted by the University of California in 2017, when autonomous vehicles are fully implemented and electronic, greenhouse gas emissions would plunge by 80%. This plunge in greenhouse gases will be greatly impact the earth in years to come.

Public Opinion

Due to all of these pros and cons, there are lots of ambiguity in the public opinion about Autonomous Vehicles. Many people voice their opinions. For example, one of the most popular opinions is that self-driving would be an exhilarating experience, but they would be afraid of its safety implications. The following are the main concerns that consumers have on self-driving vehicles.

Ethicality and Social Dilemma

Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) should reduce traffic accidents, but they will sometimes have to choose between two evils—for example, running over pedestrians or sacrificing itself and its passenger to save them. Although these scenarios appear unlikely, even low-probability events are bound to occur with millions of AVs on the road. Moreover, even if these situations were never to arise, programming must nevertheless include decision rules about what to do such in hypothetical situations. Thus these types of decisions need be made well before AVs become a global market. Distributing harm is a decision that is universally considered to fall within the moral domain. Various studies found that the human mind would spare newborns and children over animals and the homeless. The graph reflects the full findings of the survey. How will engineers program autonomous vehicles' decision-making when faced with this impossible situation?

Front of Car


To give you firsthand experience of the decision-making process, we have made a sample simulation for the predicament that autonomous vehicles face. These impossible situations will give you insight in the point of view of the self-driving car. To do the simulation, scroll up and go onto the "Simulation" tab.

Car Interior


Despite the great technological advancements made for autonomous vehicles, for the time being, there seems to be no easy way to design algorithms that would reconcile moral values and personal self-interest, let alone across different cultures with different moral attitudes to life-life tradeoffs. Although self-driving cars have great implications, it may take a while for society to accept them as our next generation of transportation.